October 25, 2016: Ambassador Lute’s Pre-Ministerial Press Briefing

Ambassador Douglas Lute

U.S. Ambassador to NATO


Pre-Ministerial Briefing

October 25, 2016


Moderator: Thank you for coming. Today we’ll have the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, Ambassador Doug Lute, speaking on the record in advance of the ministerial tomorrow and Thursday. Mr. Ambassador?

Ambassador Lute: Okay, thanks.

For those of you who are NATO veterans, you’ll appreciate that we try to do this sort of the day before every ministerial, so if you’re new, welcome to the first time, but you’ll get a chance to come back and back and back.

In this case, this is the first ministerial after the Warsaw Summit in early July – so three and a half months after Warsaw, where leaders took a whole set of very important decisions. The basic, the short notes going in – the Cliff notes as we would say in America – coming out of Warsaw center around two key themes. So a lot of decisions taken but two key themes.

The first one has to do with NATO’s responsibilities inside NATO’s borders. So as we say, inside NATO’s Article 5 borders. These are the responsibilities, the first task: collective defense and deterrence. So the first theme that you’ll see played out coming out of Warsaw – but it will also then feed this ministerial and future ministerials – is how are we doing executing on the commitments made at Warsaw on deterrence and defense. And the basic balance that we’re trying to strike there is on the one hand, NATO needs to be strong and needs to be ready to do Article 5, but on the other hand it needs to be open for dialogue with our largest, most militarily capable neighbor, Russia. So strength and dialogue is sort of this first theme.

The second theme coming out of Warsaw, which again will feed this ministerial and upcoming ministerials, is this notion that NATO has a responsibility beyond its Article 5 borders. And this is to the states on our periphery, to partners on our periphery. And here the role for NATO is to try to promote, or project, stability.

So we don’t have a defense and deterrence responsibility outside of NATO’s borders, but what we know is that the more stable these neighboring states, these states on our periphery, the more secure NATO is. Why? Because if you look at the challenges facing Europe today, many of them emanate, originate outside NATO’s borders and then migrate in. So I’m thinking here about mass migration, the refugee flow, terrorism in our large European capitals and in the United States as well. And so you can’t live inside a bunker in NATO. You have to understand and you have to do what we can to promote stability beyond our borders.

So these two key themes at Warsaw will play very importantly over the next couple of days.

Now we also know that holding summits and making decisions is relatively easy compared to actually doing it. So we are now in the execution phase after Warsaw, and frankly, you’re going to hear this over and over again as we go through this series of ministerials over the next year. At least for a year after Warsaw, we will be in what we refer to as the execution or implementation phase of all the decisions taken at Warsaw. So that’s one thing I want to make you alert to. This will be a steady pattern that you’ll hear play out over the upcoming ministerial meetings.

Ministers execute. So presidents and prime ministers decide. Ministers execute. So I think you’re going to see that beginning tomorrow.

At the same time that we’re in this execution phase, we’re also in a phase that features a lot of political activity in NATO member states. So we’ve already had just before Warsaw the UK decision, the British decision with regard to Brexit. You’ll have later this year the U.S. election and nobody’s missed that. You’ll see obviously the very important constitutional referendum coming up in Italy. And then in the course of next year you have national elections in key allies: the Dutch elections, the French elections, the German elections and so forth.

So while NATO’s in this year after Warsaw, busy on implementation, you’re also going to have a whole series of very important political activities playing out in NATO member states. All the while, the kinds of challenges that NATO faces are also playing out. So we expect a sustained challenge from the east, from Russia, by way of its military activities, and we can talk about that by way of questions if you’d like. We expect the challenges in the southeast of the alliance, so this is the challenges posed by ISIL in Syria and Iraq, to continue over the course of the next year. We don’t think it’s going to be resolved in the next year, although these early moves now in the campaign to take Mosul, retake Mosul, are certainly promising. And all the while, migration continues. This year, over the last six months, the migration flows have generally shifted out of Africa, across the Central Mediterranean, while last year the primary focus was out of the Middle East and into the Balkan states. But migration continues.

All these things also play out while threats to our homelands, our 28 national homelands continue by way of counter-ISIL – or rather ISIL or ISIL-inspired terrorism.

So it’s going to be a busy year of implementing and we’ll be implementing in the context of political movements, political campaigns in our capitals, but also these sustained threats.

Now with regard to Secretary Carter, he began his trip several days ago. This will actually be his, I think, fifth stop. He began in Turkey, touching base with a key NATO ally, but also a key coalition member in the fight against ISIL, and this of course centers on Turkey’s 1500 kilometer border with Syria and Iraq.

He then went to Baghdad, met with Prime Minister al-Abadi, visited troops conducting the Mosul campaign. He then went to the UAE, met with Emirates leaders. Also a key partner in the coalition against ISIL.

And today, actually last night, he arrived in Paris and today is holding a meeting with other coalition ministers with regard to the counter-ISIL campaign.

Then tomorrow morning he arrives here for the NATO meetings.

The meetings will take place her at NATO over the course of two days. So tomorrow afternoon, then dinner tomorrow night, then Thursday morning. So let me quickly outline the shape of those three meetings because they very much portray these themes I’ve talked about.

So meeting number one tomorrow afternoon is the deterrence and defense meeting. Here we’ll go back and review the bidding on what was decided at the Wales Summit, and in particular ensure that the Rapid Reaction Forces are ready to take their duties beginning on 1 January. So you’ll appreciate that our Rapid Response Forces that were commissioned at Wales are on an annual duty cycle, so we’re about to switch out.

The VJTF, the Rapid Reaction Force, ready to move on a few days’ notice is today, this year, led by Spain. Next year it’s led by the UK. So the British forces have been training. They’re under validation. And we need to hear from both UK leaders and alliance leaders that beginning on 1 January we’re ready to swap out our Rapid Reaction Forces. I don’t anticipate any problems there.

The other set of conversations that we’ll have in this first meeting on deterrence and defense have to do with new force posture decisions taken at Warsaw, and there are really two that I’d emphasize to you. One: the posture decisions that will take place in the northeast corner of the alliance. So here I’m talking about the three Baltic allies and Poland. And of course, at Warsaw we announced that we will put a deterrence battalion in each of those four member states with the U.S. taking the lead for the battalion in Poland.

So at the meeting on Wednesday afternoon, we would expect the four framework or lead nations and the four host nations to update all the allies on progress because these battalions are due to arrive in the first several months of 2017 and then be fully up and running by June of ’17. And that means that preparations how are already underway. From a national perspective, I can tell you as an example that the U.S. Army here in Europe is coordinating very closely with our Polish host allies, and they’re arranging sort of the mechanics of posting a U.S. battalion in another country. So where are they going to live, what kind of facilities are there, what kind of host nation support will be provided, and what kind of activities will the battalion be undertaking.

Well, you have to play that description out across all four of the host nations in the Baltic region. So we’re going to hear more details, I think, about these four battalions that are headed to the northeast.

When you add up all the allies contributing to this effort, about 20 allies, the four frameworks, or lead nations; the four host nations, and another 10 or 12 allies, will be contributing to this effort. So it’s a very broad effort. It’s not just the four frames and the four hosts, but many others will be contributing as well.

The second bit of force posture news that came out of Warsaw was the counterpart presence in NATO’s southeast. And this forward presence is different. It’s not identical to what I just described in the northeast.

In the southeast, the Romanians will host a multinational brigade. The Bulgarians will contribute full time to that brigade and then this brigade will be the receptacle for coordination as other allies, to include the U.S., send training forces down on an episodic basis to train and operate in Romania and Bulgaria. So you’ve got a new land presence in NATO’s southeast.

Not yet fully completed are plans to also bolster air and sea presence in the southeast. Of course the sea presence here, we’re talking about presence in the Black Sea. We’re not done with that work yet, but we’ll get an update on where that work stands.

So whether it’s Rapid Reaction Forces for next year or whether it’s this two new sets of forward presence, we should get updates.

I think Secretary Carter will likely also update NATO allies on U.S. national efforts to bolster deterrence and defense. And here, fundamentally, this has to do with the 3.4 billion dollars requested of the U.S. Congress, which will fund a rotational heavy brigade, so think about tanks and armored vehicles, which is today home-based in Colorado, in the States. But early next year they will board ships, come to Europe, go by rail to Poland where it will be headquartered, and then for six to nine months operate from Estonia through Romania with contingents on exercises, working closely with allied countries and so forth.

So on top of the Warsaw NATO decisions, there’s a counterpart and parallel effort on the U.S. side nationally to also contribute to deterrence and defense. And of course that gives Secretary Carter a lot to update on in this first session tomorrow afternoon.

Now deterrence is more than just tanks and aircraft. Deterrence also has to do with building the resilience of our 28 member states. What do I mean by resilience? I mean the national ability to be resistant to hybrid warfare, to energy intimidation, to campaigns of misinformation, to cyber attacks. Things that fall short of conventional aggression. And at Warsaw, allies agreed that there’s a lot of work to be done in this area of resilience as well.

So I think that we’ll also hear tomorrow afternoon how is that work progressing at the three-month mark, where can we mark success, and where do we really have to focus going forward. That’s all session one. Deterrence and defense.

Tomorrow night at dinner, the topic will change and it will shift to the second theme coming out of Warsaw and that’s projecting stability.

So given that we’ve had the discussion about what we’re going to do inside NATO borders, the focus will then shift to what can we do beyond our periphery. And here I’d just highlight a couple of things.

First of all, projecting stability is not new to NATO. This is not something that was dreamed up at Warsaw. We’ve been projecting stability in Kosovo for 17 years. We’ve been projecting stability in Afghanistan for 13 years. As an alliance, under the NATO flag. So we know how to do this.

The forms of projecting stability, though, that were discussed and decided at Warsaw are different than those operations in Afghanistan or Kosovo. And here NATO’s operating not as the lead agent or lead organization, but in a supporting role.

So in Syria, in the fight against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, we’re supporting the international coalition. How are we doing that? You’ve heard me say before that NATO is actually the force provider for the coalition. If you add it up: between all 28 allies and 20-some NATO partners you get the majority of the 65 nation coalition. So NATO is already contributing in a very fundamental way to the counter-ISIL coalition.

But the coalition just before Warsaw asked us for some specific technical support and the Secretary General announced just an hour or so ago that we’ve actually agreed now to begin flying NATO AWACS, so airborne early warning and control aircraft, in support of the coalition. So these NATO owned and operated aircraft will fly out of their home base in Germany, based out of Turkey, and fly over Turkish air space or international air space in support of the coalition. They will fundamentally be doing the task of surveillance.

So think of an air traffic control tower on the back of an airplane. That’s essentially what AWACS do. And these aircraft are provided, as I said, in response to a request from the coalition because the coalition capacity in this area was facing some gaps. So they needed some additional support, and NATO happens to have this capability. So that process is underway.

The other request that’s coming to fruition is that Prime Minister al-Abadi, the Iraqi Prime Minister, before Warsaw asked us to up the scale of the NATO training effort of Iraqi officers. So you’ll appreciate that over the last year, we’ve been training Iraqis, but we’ve been doing it in Jordan. Here we’re providing training on medical training, counter roadside bomb, improvised explosive devices, sort of niche training at the request of the Iraqis. So al-Abadi asked us before Warsaw to move that training where it would be more efficient and where we could increase it and that means, of course, moving it into Iraq. So by January we will actually move the NATO training mission out of Jordan and into Iraq. There may be still some residual work done in Jordan, but we’re trying to shift this to where it can have the best impact and that means moving it into Iraq.

So those are two forms of discreet contributions or support efforts to the coalition.

The other key effort with regard to projecting stability outside of Syria and Iraq, or outside of the counter-ISIL campaign, has to do with our support to the European Union. You’ll appreciate that for six months or so now we’ve had an operation, a maritime activity going on in the eastern Aegean Sea. So this is a very narrow, constrained sea space between the Turkish coast and the eastern-most Greek islands, where last year there was a significant, in fact the most significant, flow of mass migration across that very narrow sea space which essentially took the migrants and the refugees from Turkey into the nearest place that they could land on EU territory which were these nearby Greek islands.

So in response to this flow for six or eight months now, NATO’s had a set of ships there working closely with the Greek Coast Guard and the Turkish Coast Guard and with the EU Frontex organization to stem the flow of that migration. It’s been largely successful. Now there have bene other factors that have influenced that migration flow, but that Aegean activity continues.

We’ve now received, just in the last month, a written request from High Representative Mogherini requesting that NATO help the EU maritime effort in the Central Mediterranean. So this is the EU Operation Sophia, if you’re following EU military activities. And here, of course, the task is similar, and that is to counter mass migration, but the venue is very, very different. So you’re not dealing with a very narrow sea space between Turkey and the Greek Islands, you’re dealing with the wide open Mediterranean international sea space off the coast of Libya.

Operation Sophia is underway, but High Rep Mogherini asked NATO for some specific support. In particular, information sharing. So is there a better way to share what NATO knows about shipping and migration in that sea space with the EU; and logistics support. So is there a way for NATO to help with logistics of EU ships on station, so the EU ships don’t have to break station and go to a home port to be refueled, for example. So is there a way to make the EU operations more efficient, more effective. And I believe that Ministers will take the decision over the coming weeks to view favorably and response favorably to these EU requests. But that will be a part of the conversation over dinner tomorrow night, all having to do with projecting stability.

Let me then go from dinner to Thursday morning. This is session number three, the final session. And here we’ll actually hone in on this ongoing conversation between NATO and the EU, so again Mogherini will be present. We’ll also invite the Defense Ministers of two very key NATO partners who are EU members — Sweden and Finland — to also join the table. So you’ll go from 28 allies plus Montenegro is 29, to Sweden and Finland, so 31, plus Mogherini sitting alongside the Secretary General. And in that venue, that format, we’ll really hone in on what other areas are most promising for NATO-EU cooperation.

For those of you who carefully covered the Warsaw Summit, you’ll appreciate that just the first day of the Summit the EU leadership and our leadership, Secretary General Stoltenberg, signed a joint declaration saying that look, we share a lot of common problems here. We share 22 common member states, 21 when the UK leaves, but 22 common member states. We’re founded – both organizations are founded on the same values. We are natural partners and we ought to be able to break through the bureaucratic gridlock that has prevented cooperation in the past, and under this time of stress actually get ourselves into a much more cooperative relationship.

What are the sorts of things that we imagine? We imagine cooperation to make our member states more resilient. So are there steps we can take to make our member states more resistant to hybrid warfare? What about cyber defense? Does it makes sense for the EU to have one set of standards for its member states on cyber defense and NATO another set? Can’t we collaborate? Can’t we get along? Does it make sense to have one set of exercises by NATO on an annual basis and another set of exercises by the EU and the two don’t talk to one another? We think not. We think it makes much more sense to share scenarios, to discuss the scenarios up front, to have dialogue during exercises, and a report of common lessons learned after exercises. We aim to have the first such parallel set of exercises next year, in 2017.

So there’s a lot that’s possible here. Maritime cooperation and so forth. And we want to, in the course of this meeting on Thursday, but also in the course of upcoming meetings, move closer and closer to NATO-EU cooperation.

Now there’s been a lot reported recently about EU ambitions, organizational, institutional ambitions with regard to defense capabilities. We also want to hear from High Rep Mogherini on Thursday morning exactly how she would frame what is her, what is the EU’s level of ambition with regard to defense capabilities?

The U.S. position, and frankly NATO’s position, on this has been absolutely clear. As the EU grows stronger, NATO can benefit. So a stronger EU can mean a stronger NATO. But that depends on the capabilities and the focal areas for the EU being complementary to NATO’s standing capabilities and not competitive. We think there’s enough work to be done here where we should complement one another — cooperate, complement, but not compete. So we’ll be anxious to get an update from High Rep Mogherini on EU ambitions for defense capabilities.

The bottom line is, when we’re done two days from now with this Ministerial, the first one after Warsaw, I think you’ll see it play out very strongly, very convincingly, the two themes coming out of Warsaw. I think you’ll see that this Defense Minster’s meeting represents the first in a series of execution steps where ministers are reporting to one another how are we doing, so the framework nations, for example, on the deterrence battalions, but then also discussing what further ambitions should we have in line with what the leaders decided?

The bottom line is, and here’s my last point: you’ll see a NATO that delivers. You’ll see a NATO that says what it will do at Warsaw; and in the course of the upcoming Ministerials, you’ll actually see NATO doing that. And adding details to the decisions that were taken at Warsaw. Throughout this, we want to be an organization that delivers, that is predictable, that’s responsible, a responsible player in the transatlantic space, and a player that continues to abide by its international commitments. And that’s what our democratic populaces, our people, believe NATO is, and that’s exactly what NATO will deliver.

So I welcome your questions now. Then I look forward to seeing all of your smiling faces again in December for the Foreign Ministers and in February for the next Defense Ministers.

Press: Rita Strömmer, MTV-3, Finland. I would like to know: what’s the role of Finland and Sweden actually, not just as part of the EU, but in the meetings.

Ambassador Lute: They’re obviously important partners. NATO partners. Not members, but partners, in a very important part of, a very important region of the alliance. The Baltic Sea Region, the Nordic Region. So it’s a very natural thing when we talk about cooperating with the EU, for example, where they are member states, and we have an opportunity to talk about NATO-EU cooperation to invite them in, because then we go from the 22 NATO allies who are EU members and we add two very close NATO partners who are also EU members. So we go from 22 in common to essentially 24.

You’ll appreciate that over the year Sweden and Finland have stood out – they’ve distinguished themselves as very close partners of NATO. This has taken place in places like the Balkans and places like Afghanistan. They have contributed to our exercises, they’ve taken full advantage of our school opportunities. We have constant student exchanges. So we have a very close military and political relationship with Sweden and Finland. So it’s entirely natural, from our perspective, to invite their ministers to attend this conversation that has fundamentally to do with them because we’re talking about the EU.

And of course the Swedish and Finnish Prime Ministers, actually President and Prime Minister, also participated at the Warsaw Summit. So this is a continuing process of having a very close tie to Sweden and Finland.

Press: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. I’m Alf Johnsen, of the VG newspaper from Norway.

We learned yesterday that some 330 U.S. Marine Corps soldiers are going to train in Norway from in 2017. Can you kind of relate this force to the broader picture that you mentioned in Europe at large? The American diplomats, [inaudible] in Poland, etc. Is it part of the same force? Or is this other start of a new brigade being deployed to —

Ambassador Lute: It is not a NATO force, first of all. It’s a bilateral arrangement between the United States and Norway. It’s actually a continuation of a U.S. Marine Corps relationship with Norway that goes back decades. There’s been some prepositioned stocks and so forth in Norway. But it is an upgrade or an increase in activity between our Marine Corps and your forces.

I think the way to look at this is that as the U.S. imagines – designs its national contributions across Europe, we want to have a very balanced approach. And there’s a lot of activity on eastern flank allies. I’ve already talked to the Baltics, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania. Our ships are sailing in the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea. We have aircraft obviously deployed across the area.

We think a land presence in Norway, in the Nordic region, which opens opportunities for increased training, opens opportunities for your ground forces to operate alongside ours also makes sense and it contributes to this very geographically balanced approach. So we’re welcome to accept the Norwegian invitation to train up there. I think the Marines will get some good cold weather training, which Marines are not always well accustomed to. And it will be, I hope, a good experience for both of us.

Press: Ambassador, Robin Emmott from Reuters.

I wanted to ask you about the Mediterranean. You talked about NATO being an organization that delivers, but Secretary Kerry raised this in May. Why are we still discussing this over dinner in October?

And secondly, can you tell us more about what may happen? Is this Active Endeavor becoming Sea Guardian, does that mean that NATO ships can intercept [inaudible]?

Ambassador Lute: The first part of your question, why now? And the why now is that while Secretary Kerry raised with the EU, so raised with Madame Mogherini, that the U.S. would be willing to consider this kind of support, we only just got the EU’s request. So the EU might have asked for other forms of support, but it took them a while to refine their request. So we’ve only just received that, certainly within this month. I don’t know precisely the date of the letter.

But now with that in hand, we’re prepared at dinner tomorrow – and then I think following up in the coming weeks – to actually respond favorably. So this has been an ongoing conversation which was just formalized, and that’s the issue. Without a formal request, NATO is somewhat handcuffed here. So we now have that formal request and we’re moving on it.

There are three items requested. Information sharing, which I mentioned, logistics — so for example refueling ships at sea, keeping them on station longer. A third part though has to do with an element of enforcing the UN arms embargo for ships headed to Libya. That element we’re still working with the EU on. So we think we’re at this point more likely to view favorably the first two elements, and we still have work to do, internal work to do on the third.

Press: Teri Schultz, NPR.

I’m interested in the Russian relationship, and two items in particular. The warships steaming towards Syria. What are your concerns on that? Is there any other explanation than that they’re going to back up Russian airstrikes on Aleppo? And also, we’ve just had the Deputy Chief of the OSCE Monitoring Mission here. I don’t know if you got a chance to talk to him, but he did speak to the press and told us that the violations are just so egregious that you can barely call it a ceasefire. He’s very concerned that Minsk is not being respected and I’m wondering how strongly you can call on Russia to do its part, and how concerned you are also about the Ukrainian violations.

Ambassador Lute: I don’t think anybody is satisfied with the progress in the Donbas and the implementation of Minsk. There’s a shared responsibility for implementing Minsk, but we think the burden of the responsibility, the bulk of the responsibility lays with Russia and the separatists supported by Russia. And this speaks to the quite evident, the strong evidence provided by the OSCE monitors of the ceasefire violations and so forth. The vast majority of those come from the Russian-supported separatists. So we think there’s a special burden on them to provide the early steps in terms of improving the security situation so that the political steps that Minsk also includes are enabled.

I think that the evidence coming out of the Donbas and the inability to move faster with regard to full implementation, will lead to a renewal of EU sanctions and we certainly expect that the EU will join the U.S. in sustaining sanctions against Russia until we see full implementation of Minsk. So that’s Ukraine in a nutshell.

With regard to this Russian maritime group that’s making its way down the Atlantic coast of the alliance, and we expect – it’s programmed to enter the Mediterranean and move into an operational area in the eastern Mediterranean. What it will do when it gets there is a Russian sovereign decision. It’s in international waters. This is not the first time even a maritime group led by this ship, the Kuznetsov, I think it that’s way you pronounce it, although it’s probably not precise. Can somebody help me?

Voice: Kuznetsov.

Ambassador Lute: Kuznetsov, sorry. There you go. That ship and its handful of support ships have made this same trip before. So this is not a surprise to NATO, it’s not an unprecedented activity, it’s the kind of activity, Russian activity on our periphery in international air space or international sea space that’s completely legitimate. We monitor it but we don’t get overly alarmed.

The problem would arise if this ship contributes to the – upon arriving in the Eastern Med off the Syrian coast – contributes to the indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets in, for example, in northwest Syria, in particular in and around Aleppo. We don’t know that’s what’s going to happen, but we do know that that bombing continues today, both by Russian aircraft and by Assad, Syrian national aircraft, and this has increasingly destabilized that northwest corner of Syria. It has led to a humanitarian crisis in the city of Aleppo itself. And it certainly contributes to ongoing migration problems as well.

The basic issue here is that the reason given for the Russian intervention in Syria was to target ISIL. And it is continuing – it is continually the case that that is not who they’re targeting. ISIL is not in Aleppo. The bombing is taking place in Aleppo. So this is quite clearly contrary to the whole logic of why Russia moved into Syria in the first place.

Look, there’s plenty of work to do here together against ISIL and al-Nusra and so forth, the international terrorist element of what’s going on in Syria. And we call on Russia to focus on those common enemies.

Press: Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post.

Another question on Russia. I mean, taken a little more broadly, you have the Iskander missiles going to Kaliningrad. You have that maritime group heading to the Eastern Med. There are exercises going on in western Russia near the NATO border. And there’s a lot of war talk in Russia right now.

Is what you’re seeing right now from Russia a continuation of the bad relations over the last couple of years? Or is there a new level of activity that causes you to change your understanding or be more concerned now than previously?

Ambassador Lute: I don’t see, Michael, much that is brand new. So let me just unpack this a little bit.

So first of all, the Russian doctrine on which its military activity is based is not new. These are public source documents. They’ve been written for some years. They’re not brand new.

The Russian activity inside Russian borders with regard to military exercises, in particular these no-notice or as we call them snap exercises. This pattern is several years old. The pattern of Russian circumvention, avoiding, neglecting its obligations under the Vienna Document which governs military transparency and risk reduction measures is longstanding. This isn’t new, either. The Russian military buildup, so its generation of capabilities and so forth, is not new. Russian air and naval deployments in international sea and air space – which is completely legitimate, he United States does it every day of the week – is not new or unusual or illegal.

I think even the Russian deployment of Iskander ballistic missiles, so short range ballistic missiles from sort of the Russian mainland to the Kaliningrad Oblast is not new. I mean this has happened before.

I think the thing that crosses the line, though, that is new, really goes back to Crimea and the Donbas. Where a fundamental rule of the road, a fundamental principle of post World War II international relations, which is the inviolability of national sovereignty and international borders, national borders, that violation was such a gross violation of the rules that that stands alone as new and unique. Now you could argue that actually in 2008 the violation of Georgian territorial integrity in South Ossetia and Abkhazia falls in the same pattern.

That’s what really upsets the sort of the rules of the road. Upsets the process.

I think the thing we have to be careful about is we see things like this Russian maritime group, is not to rush back to some sort of a Cold War mindset that aha, we’ve discovered here that we’re back into the Cold War. We shouldn’t rush back to that mindset just because for some of the older ones in the audience like me it seems familiar. I think we really have to focus in on what are the fundamental violations of international norms? The sailing of the Kuznetsov is not. Right? Seizing Crimea is. And I think that is a sharp distinction.

Press: [Inaudible] from Montenegro.

What is your view on post-election situation in Montenegro and the lack of [inaudible] terror attack [inaudible] the election date, and can it have any effect on Montenegro’s path towards NATO membership? Let me remind you that there were accusations that some of the campaign was financed from Russia.

Ambassador Lute: I don’t have an independent view with regard to the incident you addressed, and I also don’t have an independent view in terms of these allegations that Russia was trying to influence your internal politics. We’d be very interested to hear from Montenegro about your national experience.

By the way, this is not unique to Montenegro. I mean, you know that our government declared a week ago that Russia’s responsible for the hacking of one of our two major political parties in the midst of a presidential election campaign. So undue illicit political interference and maybe even political intimidation is not new. It’s not new to Montenegro and now it’s not new to the U.S. either. So we’d be interested in hearing about Montenegro’s experience.

The read-out we’re getting from Montenegro is that their commitment to integrating with NATO, becoming a member, and likewise with the EU is as strong as ever as you come through this election process. So obviously it remains a national decision, but we think the election reflects your government’s and your nation’s commitment to proceed, even though, even though there’s some internal resistance.

Press: Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal.

Two quick ones. The AWACS deployment, is that to monitor Islamic state movement at all? Or is it purely on the air space, i.e. Russian and Syrian regime movements?

And on the Kaliningrad deployment, you said it is of a piece of what’s happened before. Are you confident that Iskander missiles that are there are not carrying nuclear weapons and are not in violation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty?

Ambassador Lute: There’s a lot there, so let’s start with Kaliningrad. What we know is that standard ballistic missile launchers – which is what we can see, right? — have moved from sort of mainland Russia to Kaliningrad. What we know is that this is not the first such deployment. We don’t know about the presence of nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons accompanying these missiles. We know that the Iskander is dual capable. It’s both, it has both conventional warheads and nuclear capable warheads. So there’s some things we know and some things we don’t know about that.

In the past, in these deployments of the system, the Iskander SS26 is the name we give it. When they have deployed there in the past, they’ve done so on exercise and then they’ve left again. So you know, we’re going to watch this and see.

I would note that Kaliningrad is Russian territory, so it is legitimate that they exercise their forces on their territory. The United States exercises our forces on our territory all the time. I think the difference here would be that this deployment, especially if it becomes permanent, and especially if the presence of nuclear weapons were confirmed, that it would be a change in the security posture in a way that would not promote stability, but would rather continue to raise questions about instability. So it would not be a helpful move.

Your other part was?

Press: AWACS. Are they tracking Russian or Islamic state forces?

Ambassador Lute: Because AWACS, the best capability of AWACS is airborne activity, right? So obviously, ISIL and al Nusra don’t have aircraft. They’re essentially surveilling air activity into Syria and probably northern Iraq as well. I don’t know exactly their flight paths. But this air activity is then downloaded to both NATO authorities, and we have air command and control headquarters in the region, but also to the coalition air headquarters which is in the region and not in NATO territory.

So we are essentially surveilling a wide, several hundred kilometer deep air picture and then providing that air picture to the headquarters that control the air space so that they have a more complete picture. And it was this gap that NATO was requested to fill. So that’s what we’re doing. We’re supplementing the coalition or reinforcing the coalition air picture. Which helps them then figure out whose aircraft are where, doing what. But it’s mostly a surveillance mission.

Press: Mr. Ambassador, Lauri Nurmi from Finland.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia clearly wants to create a buffer zone between NATO and Russia. When Deputy Secretary Robert Work was in Helsinki, Russia violated Finnish air space. Is the NATO membership [inaudible] Finland and Sweden in the current situation, in the foreseeable future? Or are [inaudible] and other states between Russia and NATO, so-called buffer states? Thank you.

Ambassador Lute: This is a question about membership. Unfortunately, you’re in the wrong auditorium to get the answer to that question – it would have to be an auditorium in your country. Or next door in Sweden. Because in every case of NATO membership, the question first is a national question which has to be answered nationally. So NATO doesn’t solicit, doesn’t recruit members. We never have, and I suspect we never will. The decision comes first from a national capital, a democratic national capital, and then the capital – the nation requests. So unfortunately, there is no NATO answer to that question. The door remains open for additional members. In fact, that’s even in the Washington Treaty. It’s in Article 10 of the Treaty. So in 1949 the original 12 NATO members said there can be new members. There can be additional members. And certainly Sweden and Finland are capable partners today. But whether they move from partner to member has got to start with your own body politic.

The best response I’ve heard to [your first] question actually comes from our recently departed Deputy Secretary General, Sandy Vershbow, who’s a long-time student of Russia. He was the U.S. Ambassador to Russia before he came here as the Deputy Secretary General. And he said, fundamentally what we have are two different world views. You have the Western world view, the NATO view, that comes from essentially Helsinki and is of a Europe whole, free and at peace. A Europe that teaches not competition, but cooperation. And you have what appears to be a world view out of Moscow that looks more like Yalta, which of course featured spheres of influence and domination of small states by large states and so forth.

So when you have two such sharply contrasting world views, you’re going to be in a period of instability and unpredictability, and that’s the period we’re in right now.

So when we’re in that period, as I mentioned briefly in my opening remarks, NATO takes it on for itself, takes on to itself a special responsibility and that is a responsibility to be predictable, not unpredictable. To be responsible. To do what it says it’s going to do. And most importantly, to abide by our international commitments like the Helsinki Accords, like the Vienna Document, like in the case of the United States the INF Treaty. Which we believe Russia has violated.

And so these international obligations are centered on Helsinki, but frankly, they go all the way back to the UN Charter at least, right? Those are going to be the touchstones for NATO activity and the activity of NATO member states. We look forward to the day – some day – when Russia might return to that model, but right now it’s not behaving like it. So there’s a special burden on us I think during this period of instability and competing models. There’s a special responsibility on NATO and certainly I think on the United States to do all it can to be the responsible player. And that’s what we’re going to do.

Thanks very much.