Nov 7, 2017: Press Briefing by Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison

Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison

U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO

Press Briefing

November 7, 2017


Ambassador Hutchison: Good afternoon. I’m very pleased to be here. I’m really looking forward to my first Defense Ministerial as the U.S. Ambassador and working with Secretary Mattis. I think we have a big agenda, and I know that you’ve heard from the Secretary General already this morning about the topics that we will be discussing. I’m sure many of you know that the Secretary General and the Secretary of Defense and I did go to Afghanistan together three weeks ago now, and so I think we have discussed a lot of the issues that are going to be brought up for discussion with the Defense Ministerial.

So this is one of the three each year that we hold. I’m really looking forward to having the chance to hear what the other Defense Ministers are saying and, of course, working with Secretary Mattis to put forward the American position.

As many of you probably have already heard, we are going to be talking about Afghanistan, and I am very pleased that our Allies are stepping up to try to fill the requirements for the new strategy for Afghanistan. And when I was there with the Secretary [of Defense], I will tell you that everyone on the ground there was so positive about the new administration position on Afghanistan: the agreement for the conditions-based strategy, the effort to bring in the region as well as just Afghanistan.

The effort is going to be to clear out the terrorist networks that are in Afghanistan and give the Afghan Army the chance to secure the country. And we are going to work with them as trainers and as advisors in the field.

We went to two TAAC [Train, Advise, Assist Command] bases while we were there, so we saw the field operators, and I’m very optimistic that going forward we will have a plan that can succeed. We must be patient, and we must be firm, but we will succeed in this effort.

Secondly, I think we’ve talked about deterrence and defense, and I think the Secretary General probably talked about the command structure review that is going on. The Secretary General is doing a great job of trying to modernize NATO, trying to make sure that we’re adaptable for the new threats that we face. As a newcomer in NATO, I will say that I think it is more important than ever since the Cold War. We do have real threats, and we are deterring, as NATO was intended to do, the threats that face all of us in the Alliance.

We will be talking about emerging threats to try to stay in the forefront of the new things that we are seeing out there. Most certainly, North Korea will be a topic of discussion, and I think getting all of the views of North Korea. We haven’t met since the testing of the bomb, and the longer-range ballistic missile, so I think that will be a good opportunity at the Defense Ministerial to talk about that emerging threat.

We will discuss nuclear policy review. As we know, with what North Korea is doing, it’s essential that we stay current in the nuclear posture review that America is now doing. We’re in that stage right now. And we want to be able to share some of the things that are going forward in nuclear, and although the posture review is not finished, certainly we will want to be current in what we’re talking about.

And then Secretary Mattis is going to host the D-ISIS Coalition. NATO has become a member of the Defeat ISIS Coalition, so he will be, as the U.S., hosting the Coalition and the ministers who are here that are members of the Defeat ISIS Coalition. Not only with the up to date information about where we are, but also the stabilization effort that we will want to pursue for Iraq after ISIS is defeated in Iraq and Syria.

So with that, that’s the big picture of the Defense Ministerial, and I’m really looking forward to having the two days with Secretary Mattis and being part of this new experience for me. Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you, Ambassador Hutchison.


Media: Ambassador, on Afghanistan, you mentioned you were there. Why, from what you see, do you think a few thousand troops will make any difference? Thank you.

Ambassador Hutchison: I think it is the new strategy that will make the difference. Added troops will reinforce the commitment, and I think allow us to have more advisors and trainers in the field. The Afghan Army is around 300,000 [troops], and with just the 15,000 or so troops that we have had in the field, that’s really not enough trainers to get out into the TAAC bases where our trainers are needed. So I think reinforcing the Afghan troops is number one.

Number two, the regionalization in the strategy, bringing Pakistan in, and asking Pakistan to be more helpful with [renouncing] support of terrorist networks. We would like to see Pakistan come in, in a positive effort to help stabilize Afghanistan by not supporting terrorist networks.

India is going to be a great ally in this. India is looking forward to and pledging more support, more monetary support, more infrastructure support, more training support, and India is a great ally of the U.S. as well as of Afghanistan.

And I also think that the Afghan government has made a commitment to reform. We can’t do this if the Afghan government doesn’t reform itself. The issue of corruption is front and center, and President Ghani met with us as well as his — the other part of the coalition — Abdullah, met with us together. Both pledged a united effort at addressing the corruption issue — they made a specific ask for more police trainers who could help in getting corruption out of the Afghan economy.

And secondly, in that point, there are now benchmarks that the President and Vice President together have that will start a process of saying: here’s what we have done, and here’s what we are pledging to do. And there are benchmarks to measure that progress.

So I think the conditions-based effort, the regionalization, the effort at reform that is going to be essential for the Afghan government and the Afghan Army’s competence that has been heralded by the troops with whom we met. The American troops said the Afghan troops are really good in the field. They fight their way. It’s not exactly our way, but in their way, they know this territory and they know how to get places and they’re very good at it.

So I think all of those things based on a new strategy are what give me the hope that we can succeed, with patience and with perseverance.

Media: [Inaudible] from ZAN TV, Afghanistan.

[Inaudible] focus on women, and take into consideration that peace and security cannot be sustained or achieved in Afghanistan or anywhere without women’s full participation in it. I was actually [inaudible] this new American strategy for Afghanistan, is there anything, any initiative taken to include the women in the peace process in Afghanistan, taken that a U.S. [inaudible]? Thank you.


Ambassador Hutchison: Yes, absolutely, the Afghan women. Absolutely.

You know, there are many efforts in this, and it is so important that the women have the education and have the capability to be in the economy. When we were there, we met with women in the police force. That was a first, and they were so proud of their role in the police force. We met with women engineers who were working on a project to rebuild and refurbish one of the architectural sites in Afghanistan. Everywhere we go, that women don’t have equal education and equal rights, there’s not going to be success, and we do want women to be a part of the economy, to have the ability to become educated and participate in what the Afghan economy can be.

So yes, we are going to make every effort to ensure, first and foremost, equal education for girls, and then opportunity in the field.

Media: Julian Barnes from the Wall Street Journal.

I wonder if you could talk about command structure review, and two specific questions for you. One, does the U.S. want to see the Atlantic, maritime-oriented command in Norfolk where the old SACLANT [Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic] command was? Or are you open to other European locations for that command?

And I wonder, the Secretary General talked a little bit about the cyber aspects this morning, and the importance of bolstering NATO’s cyber command. I wonder if you have delved into that and you can tell us a little bit about what the Defense Ministers will be discussing in that realm.

Ambassador Hutchison: First, on the issue of the Atlantic look at adding a new command structure, that will be discussed and I think it’s important that the ministers have the ability to talk about what that would look like and make the final decision on whether that is an added command, to make sure that the Atlantic and the sea lanes are always open to our troops. And then after that decision is made, then of course there will be an effort to decide where the command should be headquartered, and that’s not at all on the radar right now.

On your second question, on cyber: our cyber efforts are going to be — of course, we will try to increase the defense capability, the cyber defense capability. Our view is that offensive cyber should be a sovereign nation responsibility and right. Defense, however, we can do a lot with sharing information and that is for the defense ministers to discuss how that would work and how we could do more to provide more information about cyber attacks that are coming in, how they’re coming in, and see if we can make our defenses stronger in that area.

Media: KUNA, Nawab Khan.

Will there be any discussion on the situation in the Middle East? As you know, last week there were some developments presiding over [inaudible], the resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister. So what are your comments?

Ambassador Hutchison: I’m not positive I understood your whole question, but in the Middle East — certainly we are looking at all of our defense capabilities for any turmoil in the Middle East. And we are — our missile defense systems are set up for anything that would come out of the Middle East. And most certainly, our alliances in the Middle East are very strong, the ones that we have. And further than that, I’m not sure what the question would be. But certainly the Middle East — it’s not a focus of our discussion for this Ministerial, but certainly we have partners in the Middle East. In fact, we have partners who help us as part of our NATO forces in Afghanistan, for instance. So we have Middle East partners that we appreciate very much, and then we have partners in Defeat ISIS as well from the Middle East that are not NATO members, but they are strong NATO partners.

Media: 1TV, I’ve got two questions about Afghanistan. This is [inaudible] Afghanistan and Kabul. My first question is about the next election and the power sharing and the system of [inaudible]. [Inaudible] what would be a demonstration of the policy of the United States in terms of the power sharing in the future [inaudible]? Specifically, [inaudible]. Do you think that response in the last government is working the first time or a centralized system in Afghanistan [inaudible]?

And my second question is regarding the peace negotiation with the Taliban. [Inaudible] the government of Afghanistan to ask for peace in many years, but this is the Taliban that keep rejecting peace process. Do you think by only asking Taliban to come on the table will lead to peace process? Or this is the time to take more measures, not only [inaudible] in Afghanistan but also in [inaudible] Pakistan? Thank you so much.

Ambassador Hutchison: I’ll take your second question first. The goal is to show the Taliban that we are there to stay. To defeat the Taliban in their terrorism against the people of Afghanistan. And to bring them to the table for a lasting peace process.

It is a very difficult thing, I know, for the Afghan people to accept a terrorist organization that has killed so many people there, to bring that together. But if there’s going to be a lasting peace, and not have this terrorist network continue to attack innocent people and people in television stations, people in the police stations, we have to have the Taliban agree to the parameters of a peace process. That is hard, but it must happen if we are going to have the lasting government that can be a security for Afghanistan.

[…] I can’t comment about whether the central government is the lasting form of government. I think certainly right now the Ghani/Abdullah coalition government is presenting a united front on the important issues, and that is security of their people, building the armed services, bringing younger people in, and trying to ensure the corruption issue is addressed. I think they are united on that, and it’s essential.

They are going to be having elections next year, which must be free and open and fair. India has agreed to help in setting up the elections so that people will have the ability to vote in a free way, and particularly out in the rural areas, because it’s important to have the full participation of the people.

And let me make another comment regarding the bringing in the younger people. President Ghani is appointing cabinet officers: the new Interior Minister, the Defense Minister. They are in their 40s, a generation that is beginning to be able to take leadership. They have been educated over the years and they now have experience and they are taking the reins.

In the military, one of the most promising things that we heard when we were there is the retirement age is now being lowered for the military. So whereas it was 72 for a mandatory retirement, it’s now 62 for the generals. So that means the younger generation who have been trained in a positive way by experienced trainers of NATO, they’re going to be able to rise to the top of the military and produce better leadership and better results.

So I think those are the things that we see that make a difference, that are positive. And free elections are very much part of it, as is, hopefully, the continued cooperation between the two major forces of Ghani and Abdullah.

Media: [Inaudible] Ambassador, could you talk a little bit more specific about the shortcomings that worry you in the command structure of NATO right now, and what you will expect from the reform [inaudible]?

Ambassador Hutchison: We lowered the number of troops that were in our NATO forces after the Cold War, and we most certainly lowered the command structure numbers as well. We had roughly 30-something command posts and brought that down to a much smaller number. But I think after 2014, we saw the need to have more deterrence against the Russian encroachment on the east, after Crimea. And therefore, we began to look at — did we have the right command structure and what did we need to do to make a more efficient operation that will work? And several things have been done.

First of all, SACEUR is recommending the change in the command structure, building it to a bigger level to meet the threats that we have today. And then, of course, adding a new potential if the Defense Ministers adopt much of what the SACEUR has proposed that would add an Atlantic Command in the command structure. Making sure that we have open sea lanes in the Atlantic. And of course, it will bring in the United States and Canada to a much greater degree as well.

So we think that would be a good step. Now, the Defense Ministers will be making that decision about what they would recommend to the Council, and we will go forward from there.

But let me also say that we’re doing other things in making the operation stronger and better. Certainly the forward presence that we have put in the Baltics and the Black Sea area. That is being strengthened to a great degree, with rotational forces within our commitments under the [NATO-Russia] Founding Act. They are rotating, but they are there. They are doing very good, interoperable training so that they can be effective.

Secondly, we’re working on mobility. That is one of the biggest issues that we will be focusing on, not only in the Defense Ministerial, but in trying to work with NATO, in better cooperation with NATO — I mean, I’m sorry, EU. To open the ability for our troops to get wherever they are into the place that they’re needed in an emergency. And we have found that that is one of the biggest obstacles that we face to a real ability to act at the speed of relevance, to quote our Secretary of Defense.

So mobility and opening the bureaucratic doors, the custom doors, the infrastructure doors in that respect will be very important.

And then the other thing I will just mention is, we’ve talked a lot about the two percent. That will always be an issue until we have reached our goal of two percent from every member. But we don’t talk as much about the 20 percent, and we have a lot more of our members who are spending 20 percent of their defense spending on capability and modernization. But not only are they just spending 20 percent on real capability, they’re doing it in a way that fills voids in the umbrella of our defense for all of our Allies. So instead of just spending 20 percent on capability that a country would need, 20 percent is being asked in specifics on what is needed for the overall umbrella of our defense alliance.

So it could be different asks from different countries that had different potential and different capabilities to add to the whole, as opposed to specific countries just doing what is good for their particular country, but to add to the whole infrastructure that we have.

So I think there’s a lot that’s going on for efficiency, economics of scale, interoperability to make the actual functioning of the NATO forces better and more capable in a relevant speed of time.


Media: Thanks. Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post.

A quick question about troop levels in Afghanistan. Jens Stoltenberg just said the expectation is about half of the increase to come from the United States, half from other Allies. I just wanted to clarify your expectations of the numbers, and how the burden will be divided between the United States and others.

And a very quick question on North Korea. You said at the top of the discussion — does the United States want to see through concrete direct NATO involvement, preparations for involvement, in any potential conflict with North Korea? Thank you.

Ambassador Hutchison: Well, right now I think most certainly after NATO unanimously passed a resolution condemning North Korea after the test of the nuclear bomb, I think NATO is focused on this threat. Most certainly to one of our countries, one of partners — South Korea and Japan. But also looking at the capability that was shown, the possible capability of North Korea, it would take in Europe as well, as a potential threat.

Now we’ve had no serious discussions of what that would mean in the way of any kind of activity, but most certainly, after what happened in August with Kim Jong Un, I think everyone is beginning to look at the capabilities that he has and trying to do — all of us, all of us are trying to do what we can to deter something that he might do with all of this testing.

So I think in rhetoric and in certainly a protection of our partners and Allies, South Korea and Japan, I think that we are looking at a new threat. One of the things that NATO does is look at emerging threats, and certainly North Korea has to be dealt with and looked at. And right now there’s nothing on the drawing boards, but do we look at every potential future threat or emerging threat? Yes. Is North Korea one? Yes.

And on your first point on the numbers of troops, roughly 50/50 is what we would look at, but that’s not a hard and fast number, it’s not anything that we have been able to decide exactly how that is going to operate. But we have very strong support from our Allies here and in Afghanistan. Some of our members have been there since the beginning. Even when we changed to Resolute Support, we gained other Allies. We are not fighting on the field. We’re supporting the Afghan Army that is fighting on the field. And so I think that we are working with a very strong NATO Alliance. This is a NATO effort that we are making as NATO, and numbers are, as best as we can make it 50/50, but we will do this job as an Alliance with the support of our Council.

Moderator: Thank you very much.

Ambassador Hutchison: Thank you.