June 6, 2018: Press Briefing by Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison

Kay Bailey Hutchison

U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO

NATO Press Briefing

June 6, 2018


Ambassador Hutchison:  Hello.  This is a new arena and a lot better than the other one, I think.  I hope you all agree.

I know that you’ve just heard from the SecGen, so you have a lot of the basic things.  I will just repeat that we’re looking very much forward to having Secretary Mattis with us tomorrow to start our Defense Ministerial.  We’ll be on for two days.  I think as the SecGen noted, we’re focusing on deterrence and defense.  That has been what we have been building up since 2014, and the Russian illegal annexation of Crimea.

So I think now we are looking at perfecting this with a new NATO Command Structure that we hope will be approved by the Summit, and that will include two new headquarters, division headquarters, to strengthen our readiness.  America has offered one for maritime; and Germany has offered one for ability.  So I think that we are beginning now to look at a better, more efficient, fit-for-purpose NATO with a new command structure.

NATO-EU cooperation is one of the major focal points we will have.  Especially military mobility.  The EU is now beginning its effort to look at what the priorities should be.  They are working with NATO because our priorities will be for making sure we have the capability to get through any European country quickly if there is a crisis in one of our members.  So that is ongoing.  I attended a meeting this week with many of our European allies.  The Netherlands has taken a strong lead in this, and I think we will have a good work product at the end that will have NATO priorities as well as EU priorities in getting the bureaucracy cleared away if we are in a crisis and need to move forward.

Projecting stability in the south and fighting terrorism is one of the key deliverables that we are looking for in the Summit that we’ll be working through the Defense Ministerial.  Fighting terrorism, of course, includes Afghanistan where we will have a meeting of our 39 allies that are taking part in our effort to train and advise in Afghanistan.  And we are seeing progress there that gives us great hope for an Afghan-led peace process.

Then, of course, we are looking at the possibility of a new mission in NATO that will follow on the De-ISIS Coalition that has defeated ISIS, almost.  Not quite yet, but we are in the last stages of defeating ISIS in Iraq and hope now to help train and advise the new Iraqi Army and police forces that we want to make sure stabilize Iraq.

So I think we are in a good place in our Defense Ministerial.  Those will be the key points.  And I will just say that I met with President Trump and Secretary General Stoltenberg in Washington a few weeks ago.  Also meeting with our Secretary of State and our Secretary of Defense and our new National Security Advisor.  I think all of us are looking forward to a very successful Summit where we show unity in this alliance, the strength of this alliance, which regardless of other issues in our countries, which I know we are all aware that there are different bilateral issues, different internal issues in all of our countries, but NATO is remaining strong in our single purpose which is a security umbrella for all of our members.  That is something that we never waiver from.  Our alliance is very firm on this and very secure and very unified.

With that, I’ll be happy to take questions.

Media:  [Inaudible] [Zeitung].  Ambassador, are you nevertheless not concerned that [facility] in the transatlantic relationship might endanger the unity of NATO?  And how do you explain to allies in Canada and in Europe that the United States considers [fee] [inaudible] imports from those countries, from Canada and Europe, as threats of national security?

Ambassador Hutchison:  I don’t think it has ever been said that they are threats to national security.  I think it is a known fact that America has lost much of its heavy manufacturing base.  I think the President is trying to assure that we have a manufacturing base, that it is strong, that we have the capability in our country to make and produce big items and small items.

I truly believe that in the end when we have a fair and level trading relationship with all of our allies, which will be the end result, that that will be to all of our benefit.

I will also say that I am not concerned that our NATO alliance will ever be in jeopardy.  I think the President and our whole administration has been very firm about the strength of NATO and our transatlantic bond.

Yes, we have differences on issues.  Economic issues, internal issues.  In any of our countries that might happen.  But we’ve never lost the strength and the unity of NATO in all of the ups and downs since 1949, and that is going to continue.  It will absolutely be the strongest alliance in the history of the world going forward as well.

Media:  [Inaudible].  I want to ask about the Polish request or proposal to establish a permanent base for the U.S. [forces] Poland.  We know from the [media] this [inaudible] consideration, what are the congressional [comments]?  Policy is very much up to such decisions.  But on the other hand, there is a NATO-Russia Treaty from ’97 which, do you think it would [against] this treaty?  Or rather [inaudible] with this treaty?  And how much likely it is that the U.S. will establish the permanent base or permanent troop support?

Ambassador Hutchison:  I think there has been no action taken on the side of America for this.  Poland is a wonderful ally and certainly a strong part of our NATO alliance.  But at this time there are no plans for a new permanent base in Poland.  Certainly if Congress asks for a study that goes through, a study would be made.  But there are many factors to consider, one of which is what are our treaty obligations, one of which is the, where our military would want to have more troops, whether they were permanent or rotating.  But we would take into account a lot of different factors if that ever were on the table.  But at this point, it is not.

Media:  Ambassador, [inaudible] the Secretary General’s message has been that a lot is being done and pointing to the increase in spending by NATO, U.S. allies between 2014 and 2018.  Now that still leaves us with a large number of countries not reaching the two percent.  But do you feel that the message coming from here is enough to convince President Trump?  Thank you.

Ambassador Hutchison:  Thank you.  Certainly burden sharing is a very important part of our total alliance, and I think that until we all are able to see that we have two percent [GDP on defense spending] of all of our countries going in the same direction, and that is having a capability for self-defense in each of our countries.  And I think that it will be an issue until we have that realized.  It was a commitment made at Warsaw to strive for that level.

Now having said that, we are going in the right direction, and probably by 2018 when the final numbers are in we will have the largest single year increase in spending since the Cold War.  So I think our allies are certainly turning the corner from 2014 when all of us were lowering defense spending, including the United States, to going in the other direction and increasing spending which all of our allies are now doing.

We are urging every country that doesn’t have the two percent plan to do so, and it is a strong ask.  Because we want Europeans to put as much into the defense of Europe as America is putting into the defense of Europe as well as North America.  So we will continue to ask our allies to step forward because that’s part of a strong alliance.

Having said that, there are other parts of a strong alliance as well, and all of our allies are doing something in the area of contributions.  Contributions of troops, contributions of equipment, contributions of funding — especially in Afghanistan which is a big sum.  Our trust fund is supporting Afghanistan while they are in the process of a peace agreement.  And our allies are coming forward and our partners are coming forward.  We have some partners, I’ll mention Australia because they are especially significant.  Germany is as well.  In funding the trust fund for Afghan forces.

So I think we give in different ways and we need to acknowledge that, as well as the two percent, both of which are pillars for the strength of our alliance.

Media:  You said that counter-terrorism will be one of the major deliverables that you are looking for at the Summit, but could you be more specific?  What is constantly reiterated by Secretary [Inaudible] and even by you, [inaudible] Afghanistan [inaudible] training.  Cyber, counter-cyber threats.

So President Trump knows all the things that NATO is doing and still asks for more.  So what specifically will he be looking for that isn’t being done?

And secondly, on the [military], just to follow up, are you even [inaudible] for weakening their strength, are you nonetheless perhaps [inaudible] tension it is setting up?  In Secretary General Stoltenberg’s press conference, [inaudible] at least half of the questions were about transatlantic tension.  Isn’t that counter-productive for the alliance nonetheless?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Well of course we are in a period in which many countries have internal politics that are difficult to deal with, and we have understood that.  We also have bilateral disagreements among some of our members.  I will just use as an example the agreement that was made between Turkey and the United States on going forward in Syria yesterday.  That was a tense moment between our two countries, but we had a working group that came to a conclusion which both sides now accept as a road map forward.

That will continue to happen.  That is going to happen with 29 countries.  But the strength of our alliance is not in jeopardy.  We are strong together.  We will have disagreements on other issues.  But we will not have a disagreement about the strength of NATO and the importance of deterrence and defense for NATO and for North America.

On the other point, burden sharing —

Media:  No, no.  Not burden sharing.  Counter-terrorism.

Ambassador Hutchison:  Oh, counter-terrorism.  We are, of course.  The big actors here are Afghanistan and Iraq, because we’re trying to prevent terrorism where it is from coming into our countries.  That is part of deterrence and is part of counter-terrorism.  But on the ground, all of our countries are also facing terrorist attacks.  One of the reasons that we are in Syria is because that has been a planning place for European terrorism.  So has Afghanistan been for U.S. terrorism.  That’s where 9/11 was hatched.

So we are now working within our European alliance to do more in counter-terrorism.  Both hybrid support teams that we are proposing to go out to help countries that might be victims of hybrid warfare or hybrid activities.  Mal-influence or all information going out from Russia or others.

So we are hardening our assets on cyber and hybrid as well as any information that we can share about potential terrorist groups that might be within our own borders that we can thwart before another terrorist attack in Europe, the United States or Canada.

So we are definitely as a deliverable in the Summit looking for more in counter-terrorism of which Afghanistan and Iraq would be too, assuming that things are settled in Iraq.  We don’t know yet because their government is not yet put together after their election.  But certainly Afghanistan will be an ongoing mission of NATO.  It is very important that we stop the terrorism that is being exported from Afghanistan to protect our countries.

As you know, the second-largest refugee population in Europe today is from Afghanistan.  So that’s not good for Afghanistan and it’s not good for our European allies either.

Media:  Thank you.  Number one, what is the United States’ view on how [access] to European defense initiatives [inaudible]?  And are you satisfied that the U.S. has access both strategically and commercially?

Secondly, just a few words about the importance of the 30/30/30/30 initiative and other measures which are being put in place in response to tensions with Russia.  Thanks.

Ambassador Hutchison:  On your second point, I think the Secretary General mentioned the 30/30/30/30 as one way of strengthening our deterrence in defense which we have been doing, as I said, since 2014.  I think it is a good plan, and I hope that it will be blessed by the Defense Ministerial and on to the Summit as part of our deterrence and defense initiatives.  I think it’s a very strong capability to be able to form those teams that would be effective by 2020.

On the American and other non-EU allies who are members of NATO and their access into the new European Defense Initiative and [PESCO], that is something we are working on and that we very much hope will be a good news story.

The AA which is the process that is being formulated now by [PESCO] for having procurement standards, we hope that it will allow open access based on what the United States does for the United States and other non-EU allies.

I will just mention that more than $1 billion was spent last year, was actually secured last year by European firms by the Department of Defense and the United States.  Meaning the DoD has given contracts to over $1 billion worth of purchasing from European allies.  Companies.  To companies that are European allies.

So it is very important for us to have the same fair and level playing field that we give to our allies in Europe to be given to us in the defense category.

Media:  There is [suspicion] [inaudible] position on Italy to the [inaudible] alliance with the U.S. [inaudible].  About the same time he also said that he [inaudible], also with the region of [in sanctions] [inaudible].

So could you comment on it and what you expect on the new national [inaudible]?

Ambassador Hutchison:  We very much look to Italy as one of our strongest allies in the NATO alliance, and are pleased that that has been acknowledged.  We do also believe that sanctions against Russia until they drop their illegal invasion of Crimea as well as Eastern Ukraine and also parts of Georgia, it’s important that our allies stand strong on the sanctions against Russia until that behavior is changed.  If we don’t stand strong, and Russian believes that we are back to business as usual, that would be a bad signal to Russia that they can take land that is not theirs, of sovereign nations and get by with it, and that is not a signal we want to send.

Media:  [Inaudible].  Turning to [inaudible].  There’s been some discussion about allies and Summit-level flexibility, focusing more on capabilities rather than the numbers.  Some countries [inaudible] two percent [inaudible].  But President Trump has been very focused on that number, two percent.

Do you see any flexibility or any ability to discuss what goes into it and how it’s counted?  Counted in not military things but [inaudible] that go to [stability]?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Remember, Michael, that the two percent is not something that President Trump thought of.  This was done in Warsaw before President Trump was elected, and it was done based on what we needed for the security umbrella for all of us, which meant we needed equipment, we needed airplanes, we needed tanks, we need the capability that an overall assessment was two percent of our gross domestic products in our countries.

So it’s very important that two percent not just be a number that was taken out of the air.  It’s for real capabilities.

So what is put in that, certainly it’s negotiable, but it has to be assets or personnel that are capable of contributing to our security umbrella.

Let me just say one other thing.  That is when we talk about the overall alliance, we are talking about two percent and 20 percent as a capability focus.  But we’re also talking about contributions.  And I want to say here that many of our countries are contributing troops in harm’s way.  Troops in peacekeeping.  Troops in enhanced forward presence that would be ready to deter and defend against the encroachment from any other country.

So the troops in the field and the capability that they have and the equipment that they have is also an important contribution, and many of our allies give much in that category that are not doing the two percent.  But what we’re looking for is to meet the Warsaw commitment that was made, that we would strive toward two percent.  And that is something that will be until we reach that two percent level and we have the capability to have all the airplanes, all the tanks, all the arms that we need to defend against a real incursion by a real enemy.

So contributions are as important as the two percent capability, but they are not mutually exclusive.

With that, let me say that I think we’re going in the right direction, but we do need more.  Secretary General reiterates that every time he talks.  I do.  We know that our administration is asking all of us to come forward with more commitment, more capability, and more contribution to this alliance to not only keep it strong, but to make sure that it endures against any kind of outside influence that would harm the people of our 29 countries.

Moderator:  Ma’am, point of clarification. Did you mean the Wales pledge on defense spending?

Ambassador Hutchison:  Oh Wales, that’s right, and then Warsaw, to reiterate.  Thank you.