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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

U.S. National Security Strategy Update

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Washington, DC
July 25, 2011

12:15 P.M. EDT

ADM MULLEN: Good morning and thank you. First of all, before I read my prepared remarks, I’d just like to certainly express my thoughts and prayers and condolences for – to the families and friends of those who lost so many people in this tragedy in Norway, and that we certainly are with them, thinking about them, and offer that by way of support in these very, very tragic circumstances.

Thanks again for allowing me to be here and brief you on matters I think are important to the United States national security. Today, I would like to focus my opening comments on the Asia Pacific region. As you probably know, I just returned from a trip to that part of that world, spending the bulk of my time in China, although I also visited Korea and Japan. I was invited to China by my counterpart, General Chen Bingde, after he visited us here in the United States in May. The exchange between us, these two trips, were in keeping with and in fact in response to the commitment made by President Obama and President Hu Jintao to advance military relations between our two countries.

To that end, I think we’re off to a good start. General Chen’s visit here and mine over there included a series of good, candid discussions, tours and demonstrations, and a few specific agreements to conduct future exercises and personnel exchanges. I come away encouraged that we now have at least a basis for ongoing dialogue and some very tangible common challenges we can continue to work on together – things like piracy, terrorism, and disaster relief operations.

We do not agree on everything, and neither of us really expected that we would. There are still very real, very substantive issues between us that inhibit the sort of close cooperation and partnership we enjoy with other militaries in the region. The Chinese object to Taiwan arms sales; we object to the use of coercion in settling disputes in the South China Sea. The Chinese don’t like our routine reconnaissance flights in international airspace, and we don’t like any attempt to inhibit freedom of navigation and access to the global commons to include international waters and air space. I think that’s just going to have to be okay for right now. In fact, I would argue that genuine disagreement is a healthy part of any relationship. The hard part is trying to move past those areas where you simply cannot find common ground to those where you can, and General Chen and I are trying to do that.

The initiatives we agreed to are good, healthy first steps in what I consider a burgeoning relationship, but they are only first steps. We have a long way to go in our relationship with China, and no recent history of strategic trust upon which to build it. I’m under no illusion about the magnitude of the problem in that regard any more than I am about the importance of having a relationship with the PLA not solely given over to reaction and overreaction by either side. The time is now to try to make this work, especially given the great significance of the Asia Pacific region to global security and prosperity.

And that actually leads me to two final but critical points today. First, as important as developing this military relationship with China is to our interests, we cannot let it dominate our thinking, planning, and force posture decisions. We have other vital and enduring security commitments in the region that we must also deepen and broaden. That’s why I also made it a point to visit Korea and Japan, two of our staunchest allies there.

The Republic of Korea has been a steadfast – has been steadfast in supporting United States security efforts around the world, including Afghanistan, where they have deployed a provincial reconstruction team, and our commitment to their defense and to security on the Peninsula remains unwavering. It is my view that the North Korean regime will once again attempt to provoke hostilities, and that once again, leaders in the South will face some difficult decisions about if and how to respond. Thus far, ROK leaders have shown commendable restraint, but I think it would be a grave mistake for the North to perceive this restraint as a lack of resolve, or, in fact, of the capability of our alliance to defend itself.

Likewise, we take seriously our commitment to the defense of Japan and will continue to work with the Japanese self defense forces to improve their out-of-area operational capabilities as the nation adjusts its own defense posture. This was my first visit back to Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami last March, and I was struck by just how fast and how well the hardest hit areas were recovering. I was also glad to hear from Japanese leaders that the United States military contributions to the relief effort were of the size and scale they most needed. But as I said in Tokyo, the level of cooperation we enjoyed in Operation Tomodachi and the degree to which we were able to help them speaks as much to our longstanding friendship as it does to American capability, and it stands as a stark reminder of the power in partnerships.

We aim to strengthen other partnerships as well. Our alliance with Australia represents yet another model for interoperability, transparency, and meaningful combined full spectrum capabilities. We will make it better with more joint operations, exercises, and exchanges. We seek expanded military cooperation as well with India on nonproliferation, safeguarding the global commons, and countering terrorism. And we will expand our military security cooperation in exercises with the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Singapore, and other states in the region, working with them to address common threats to their sovereignty and security.

But we would also ask them to do the same with others, and that’s my final point today. As I said, we have an enduring security commitment in the Pacific we plan to deepen, but so too would we like to see others deepen their cooperation with their neighbors. Relationships matter – not just bilateral relationships, but collective ones, whether they include the United States or not. Multilateral relationships improve understanding, sharpen interoperability, strengthen regional norms, and encourage more responsibility by more people in addressing shared security challenges.

That’s why Secretary Clinton traveled to the ASEAN Regional Forum last week, and it’s why the United States military will continue to place increased emphasis on our work with that body and with other multilateral forums. We are and will remain a Pacific power. Our military is and will remain the long arm of that power. We will not shrink from old or new responsibilities, and we most certainly will not shrink from every opportunity to enhance peace and stability in this vital part of the world. Thank you.

QUESTION: Good morning, Admiral. This is Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. How do you see the evolution of military-to-military relationship between India and the United States?

ADM MULLEN: Sorry. Say that again?

QUESTION: How do you see the evolution of mil-to-mil relationship between India and the U.S.?

ADM MULLEN: The military to military relationship between India and the United States has, I think, grown stronger and stronger and actually is in very good shape. There’s very active interaction between the services – each of the services, certainly a – before several years, before I had this job, I was the head of our Navy. And the interaction, for instance, at that time between our two navies was significant.

And it continues to be; we continue to grow each year. It’s a vital region, it’s a vital relationship, and it’s a relationship that I think we need to make stronger and stronger. So I’ve been very pleased with how it has grown and look forward to that continuing to be the case.

QUESTION: Hi, Wen Xian from People’s Daily. Under what do you see the update development of South China Sea issue? Thank you.

ADM MULLEN: I think Secretary Clinton on this visit to the ASEAN Forum and the region has made pretty clear that this needs to be resolved peacefully, it needs to be resolved in a way – I think what she put out there was to establish a code of conduct, if you will. And the United States position is also very clear on this. We certainly support peaceful resolution. We don’t take a position on any of the issues between two countries.

That said, we are, as I said in my opening statement, very strongly in support of the freedom of the seas, freedom of navigation, the right to operate in international waters unimpeded. And when a single nation violates that, that nation violates all nations with respect to freedom of the seas. The same is true in international airspace, as well as a global commons like the cyber world. So we are very supportive of resolving these disputes as rapidly as possible and doing it in a way that preserves peace and stability, which would then support continuing prosperity in the region.

QUESTION: Paola Mastrolili of the Italian newspaper La Stampa. Today, an Italian soldier was killed in Afghanistan, and since Italy is about to go to the refinancing of the international mission, of course, there are – were some discussion about the proposal to stop the mission in Afghanistan, particularly from the Lega Nord, one of the party of the governing coalition. How would you react, how would you respond to this position? And what would you tell the Italian allies to do in this difficult situation?

ADM MULLEN: Well, first of all, I want to offer my thoughts and prayers and condolences to the family of the Italian soldier who paid the ultimate price for supporting the security needs that obviously the Italian people and the Italian Government have very specifically identified and certainly provided troops to support. Secondly, I would never take a position in terms of what another country should do. That really is up to the Italian people and the Italian Government. I recognize the challenges in Afghanistan are significant.

I’ve been incredibly impressed and moved by the fact that 49 countries have forces in Afghanistan and NATO, 28 of whom are obviously NATO, and there’s a very strong coalition in support of the mission there. All of that said, what the Italians really do in the future is going to be up to the Italian people and Italian Government.

QUESTION: John Zang with CTI TV of Taiwan. Admiral, thank you. You spoke of the U.S.-China differences over arms sales to Taiwan. Secretary Clinton told Senator Cornyn that a decision on F-16 sales would be made by October the 1st. Do you – what kind of a decision do you foresee? Is that a yes-or-no decision? And will U.S.-China military relationship survive another major U.S. arms sales to Taiwan? Thank you, sir.

ADM MULLEN: Well, certainly, it’s a decision that I have confidence, based on what Secretary Clinton is saying, that will be made by 1 October. And it’s really a decision that is for the President of the United States to make and certainly announce, so I would not preview that, even if I knew what the President were going to do.

And secondly, part of what I talked about in my opening comments is – certainly, this is an issue that General Chen Bingde and I discussed when he was here, both privately and publicly, same thing when I was in China. We are very much aware – I’m aware that this is an issue of great interest not just to the United States, but also to China. And clearly, the Chinese would strongly prefer us to stop doing this.

The point I made to General Chen was that we have a relationship and responsibilities, and there are legal responsibilities in my country to support the Taiwan Relations Act. And then the specifics of how that gets done, obviously, is done over time, and certainly previous arms sales are representative of that. So I would hope that in the future, when we come up against these very difficult issues, whether they’re reconnaissance operations, South China Sea, Taiwan arms sales, that we are able to sustain the military relationship which has been renewed, is critical, and that we, in that sustainment, have the ability to continue to talk to and engage with each other.

I think terminating that, even for brief periods of time now, can be – has a significant downside that works against stability in the region. So when we have another bump in the road, should that occur, I hope we can work our way through that with the Chinese military.

QUESTION: Huma Imtiaz, Express News, Pakistan. Admiral Mullen, you just mentioned working with Pakistan to defeat terrorism in the area. Where are relations between both countries right now in terms of military-to-military contacts, especially after the decision to put a hold on $800 million in U.S. aid to military assistance to Pakistan?

ADM MULLEN: Well, with respect to the military assistance, that’s not all the assistance that’s going to Pakistan, and part and parcel of the decision was to not impede in any way the aid to the civilian side specifically. I think that decision is representative of concerns, certainly, that are held in my Congress with respect to the status of the relationship, the needs to do certain things to move ahead here, and that’s a very strong signal in that regard.

We’re in a – to get to the first part of your question, we’re at a very difficult time right now with respect to our military-to-military relationship. That said, I don’t believe we’re close to severing it, and we shouldn’t do that. I think sustaining this relationship is critical. We’ve been through difficult times with them in the past, and we should see this difficult time through in terms of sustaining this relationship over time and recalibrating

it, for sure. But certainly from a leadership standpoint, my interaction with the leadership, the military leadership in Pakistan, the – including Generals Kayani and Wynne, is that they are supportive of continuing this relationship, and we need to work our way through the details of how we’re going to do this. This is a critical region. The whole – what’s going on in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is vital to us as a country, the United States as a country, and certainly to them. And we seek – in much the same way I talk about peace and stability in the Pacific, we certainly seek the same outcome, much different circumstances. But I think we all agree that we need to figure a way to get to that same – to a level of stability that that region hasn’t seen for a long time.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yes. My name is Sonia Schott with Glovovision TV, Venezuela. The U.S. Congress raised some concerns regarding Venezuela and its ties with the Hezbollah and Iran and so on. I would like to know, if is anything that support these concerns? And actually, as for an investigation for a – from the Obama Administration to Venezuela, to the Venezuelan Government, I would like to know is Venezuela or the Government of Venezuela under investigation? What is the information you have on that? Thank you.

ADMIRAL MULLEN: Is Venezuela under investigation?

QUESTION: Yeah, because the Congress, the U.S. Congress, asked the State Department for an investigation on what is going on with these ties between Venezuela and Iran, Hezbollah, and FARC, et cetera.

ADMIRAL MULLEN: Let me try to answer this. Let me try to answer this in two parts. First of all, I certainly share the concern in terms of the Venezuelan links to Iran, which have been there for a significant period of time and growing. Secondly, I’m not aware of any investigation that’s ongoing with respect to investigating Venezuela. That doesn’t mean that, either in Congress or in the State Department, that there couldn’t – that there wouldn’t be a review, quote/unquote, of where we are with respect to that, but I’m not aware of any investigation. It’s something that we – the ties of a country like Iran, who is a state sponsor of terrorism, we pay a lot of attention to what they do around the world. And we assess it all the time. But to say that you would limit it or somehow that you would say this is a specific investigation, I’m just not aware of that.

QUESTION: Thank you. Tolga Tanis, Hurriyet. Could you give us some details, more details about your cooperation with Turkish Government in terms of regional risk? Okay, there is the cooperation in Afghanistan, for example, but – and could you focus more on Iraq, Syria, and Iran? There is an ongoing war in Iraq and there are some risk in Iran and also in Syria, and also in Azerbaijan and between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Could you give some details, your cooperation level with Turkish Government in terms of these regional risks?

And the second question: Turkey is struggling with PKK since a long time, since the 30 years, maybe, and there are some expectations from U.S. Government for this war – for this struggle, let’s say. They are based in Northern Iraq, for example, and you are conducting an operation in Northern Iraq. Is it possible to conduct a joint operation against PKK, or what kind of support can you give to Turkish Government in terms of their struggle against PKK? Thank you.

ADMIRAL MULLEN: Well, when you asked the question about Turkish – cooperation with the Turkish Government, there’s been a very longstanding set of support mechanisms vis-à-vis the second issue you asked about with respect to the PKK, and that kind of support is ongoing. It’s something we address all the time with the Turkish military as well as the Turkish Government.

More broadly, we are engaged in cooperating across many issues of concern in the region. I mean, you mentioned one, Afghanistan, and quite frankly, Turkey’s contributions in Afghanistan have been significant. The – there has – there is a longstanding cooperation with respect to the – where Iraq goes in the future. Certainly, Turkey has a great interest, for obvious reason, because it is a regional country, and the United States for its – because of, certainly, our commitment there over the last many years.

With respect to the broader issues of regional stability, we’re engaged with the Turkish Government in many ways all the time, whether it’s through NATO – Turkey is a critical member of the NATO alliance in that regard – or whether it’s bilaterally with – between me and my counterpart or in the Department of State, clearly in the Foreign Ministry there. So we’ve been allies and good friends for a long time, and I – and part of that has been addressing a wide range of issues, and we continue to do that. And I’m comfortable in the relationship. It’s critical, and we need to sustain it in the challenging environment in which we exist, and I think will be in the – exist not just now but in the future.

QUESTION: Sang-Yeon Kim, Seoul Shinmun from South Korea. Do you still expect North Korea will provoke against South Korea or the United States, even though our dialogue between South and North Korea and USA and North Korea are progressing right now?

ADMIRAL MULLEN: I think, to speak to the dialogue which has recently been decided to renew, Secretary Clinton made it very clear, in this dialogue the United States is only supportive if there are concrete steps taken by the North. And it is a – that is a prelude to getting back to Six-Party Talks, which the United States still believes is the critical forum.

I do believe, and am concerned, based on history, that the North certainly could generate another provocation. And based on what happened last year there, certainly Cheonan in March and the artillery firing in Yeonpyeong, where the North Koreans have killed Korean citizens, 46 sailors and I think three marines, there’s been a very strong reaction in the South as a result of that. And I know that there is a – been very strong messages sent about the intent to respond if the North generates more provocations. There’s a long history of provocations here and behavior. So if past is prologue here, I’m very worried that there will be more provocations.

That said, I am confident, as I said in my opening comments, that the North should not misread restraint on the part of the South as a lack of determination to take care of their people. They’re going to do that. And I’m certain of that. I was just there. That was just reaffirmed in my visit.

What I would hope is that we could work our way through this without provocations and get to a point where we achieve the shared goal that we have not just with the South but also with the Chinese to denuclearize, to make sure that peninsula is denuclearized, and in that – by way of that, a much more stable area. There’s a lot of work to be done to make that happen.

QUESTION: Thank you. Admiral, Paul Koring with the Globe and Mail of Canada. I’d like to shift oceans on you if I could for a second. The Russians have just announced building six new icebreakers. China said it wants to be part of the Arctic Council. Are you comfortable with the current and projected U.S. surface presence in the Arctic, given the increased shipping – summertime shipping so far? There’s plenty of subsurface presence, but surface vessels?

ADMIRAL MULLEN: The – well, I’d never confirm one way or another whether there was any subsurface presence anywhere. But secondly, I’m comfortable now. That said, I think just the premise of your question that – of what the Russians are doing and what the Chinese are doing, and certainly we have looked in that direction along with Canada and others – that it’s an area of – it’s a growing area because of the available sea lanes. And I think underpinning that or after that – sea lanes open up – there will be a lot of commercial investment there. And there’s a great opportunity to provide for better economies; at the same time, there’s a competition, and we need to make sure that competition doesn’t involve any kind of conflict.

So resolution and focus on the part of the countries who are involved in this is going to be important and done in a way, and early enough, to get this right up front. But it’s an area of growing overall concern from a security standpoint long-term. Where we stand right now, though, I’m not concerned at all about the security aspects of what’s going on in the north.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Well, Romania is almost part of the future missile defense. I understand that the negotiations have come onto straight lines. So what are your expectations from the Romanian Government and authorities? And how are the costs going to be shared between the two sides? Thank you very much.

ADMIRAL MULLEN: We’re in discussions, actually, with an awful lot of countries with respect to the whole aspect of missile defense in the future. And there are still issues that have not been specifically resolved, as to time and place and cost. And I think as we are into these negotiations with many countries, we’ve got to work out the details. Where the United States is overall, it’s certainly very supportive of the Phased Adaptive Approach in Europe. This really focuses on the growing threat of Iran, who continues to invest and test and generate longer and longer-range capability over time. And we need partners to do this with, and certainly Romania is a good partner in that regard. But as far as the details are concerned, I wouldn’t discuss those right now.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Naoufal Enhari with Morocco’s news agency [Maghreb Arab Presse]. Yesterday, in a letter to Congress, President Obama underlined the growing ties between significant transnational criminal organizations and terrorists. How concerned are you by the links between organized crime organization in North African and Sahel region and the local branch of al-Qaida, AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb]? Thank you.

ADMIRAL MULLEN: Well, if I were going to pick one area specifically with respect to North Africa, and it is, I think, certainly very much existent with your country, it is – it’s been the flow of drugs literally across the Atlantic, which then lands in North Africa and then moves into Europe. It doesn’t all move to Europe. Certainly the envelope that surrounds that, if you will, is transnational crime, and this is something I’ve been concerned about for years. And it’s not just drugs, because it’s immigration, it’s people, it’s weapons. And a few years ago, it was a multitrillion-dollar-a-year business globally, and something that ties in very nicely to – from the standpoint of support of terrorists, whether it’s in North Africa – we’ve seen that in other parts of the world as well.

So I’m extremely concerned about that. I think taking steps to try to arrest that trend, if you will, globally and having countries that will come together to do this is an incredibly important step forward that – and it will – it has and it will continue to infect North Africa, both from a crime standpoint as well as from a terrorist standpoint.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Ching-yi Chang with Phoenix TV. Today, Taiwanese [sic] media reports that there’s Chinese fighter jets repelled a U.S. aircraft in Taiwan Strait last month, and this is the first time that the U.S. and Chinese fighter jets encounter since 2001. And what’s your reaction to this?

ADMIRAL MULLEN: The report is they repelled what?

QUESTION: A U.S. spy aircraft.

ADMIRAL MULLEN: As I indicated in my opening comments, certainly the issue of reconnaissance operations is one that we’ve discussed with the Chinese. I discussed it – I’ve discussed it with General Chen when he was here and certainly when I was in China. The intent of where we are with respect to that is these are international – this is international airspace, in this case, and we won’t be deterred from flying in international airspace. That’s – again, that kind of violation, or that kind of – if we respond in a way that cedes the position of the Chinese there – “You can’t fly in this area” – that, again, is a signal, globally, quite frankly, for something that’s an international standard that we’ve had for a long, long time.

The Chinese would see us move out of there; I don’t see that as the case. We’re not going to do that from my perspective. These reconnaissance flights are important. I think we both have to be very careful about how we fly them. We have to be careful about the intercepts. We have to make sure that we don’t repeat what happened in 2001. These are lives that are at stake up there, in addition to creating an incident, whether it’s in the air like that or in the South China Sea, as I was asked about earlier, that escalates the tension over there and could put countries in a position to miscalculate, go in the wrong direction with respect to stability and peaceful resolution of these kinds of things.

QUESTION: A question from Russian Television International [RTVI]. Could you say something on the latest talks with Russia on missile defense? And Admiral, could you give some reasons why not to accept Russian proposal of giant missile defense system with certain zones of responsibility for U.S.A., for NATO, for Russia?

ADM MULLEN: We continue, literally through today, with very rigorous and, I think, open discussions with our Russian counterparts on a way ahead from a missile defense standpoint. And there are areas that we agree on and disagree on, but we continue to work. And you raised a very specific one. The United States has taken a position where we are going to support this Phased Adaptive Approach for Europe and essentially put that system in place over the course of the next decade or so. We do that, understanding what the Russian concerns are, and we need to continue to work our way through that, and I know that that is ongoing as we speak, both on the military side as well as the diplomatic and political side.

What I’m encouraged about, with respect to this, is that President Medvedev and President Obama have worked hard together on these difficult issues, and they’ve sent signals to us – us being those – the rest of their government, the Russian Government as well as the United States – is to figure out a way ahead here. There are various proposals that come up for how we might do this. We can agree or disagree and that’s what we’re working our way through right now.

MODERATOR: Okay. We have time for one more question and it’ll be down here [to Al Jazeera English TV].

ADM MULLEN: Do you want to get New York? [Take a final question from NYC via video?]

MODERATOR: Oh, I (inaudible). (Laughter.)

ADM MULLEN: I should’ve just walked away. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Last question to me. Thank you for doing this briefing. My name is Camille El Hassani. I’m from Al Jazeera English Television. And I wanted to ask you about the NATO campaign in Libya, if you think that it’s winnable as it is now, and what’s the latest on whether or not the U.S. will arm the TNC to help push them over the – over to win?

ADM MULLEN: There’s – best to my knowledge, there’s no decision to arm the [Transitional National Council] TNC on the part of the United States. And secondly, I think, as I’ve said in the past, in the end this is a – the political outcome is the one that is – is the one that we see. Certainly, I have been impressed with what NATO has done here, how fast it got together with the pressure that it’s brought on Qadhafi. It’s dramatically attritted his forces, his major forces. That said, there’s still plenty of challenges associated with the regime forces who have adjusted – that’s not a surprise – adjusted to the opposition tactics, and we are generally in a stalemate. Although with the strikes over time, Qadhafi’s forces are continuing to be attritted and additional pressure has been brought.

In the long run – and I think the recognition of TNC was a big deal, and there are a lot of countries working to try to support them in their effort. And in the long run, and I don’t how long that is, but in the long run, I think it’s a strategy which will work with respect to the removal of Qadhafi from power.

MODERATOR: Okay. I think we will squeeze in one final question from New York. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Janet from the Turkish Journal, and I want to ask you a question about Israel and Turkey. As you know, right now negotiations are ongoing. They would like to normalize their ties. But if something happens and there is not normalization of ties, how do you see this specifically affecting the military in the region – United States, Turkey, Israel? And how do you specifically see the ramifications of something like this strategically in the region?

ADM MULLEN: Well, I was just in Israel last week on my way back from Afghanistan after the visit to China, Korea, and Japan. And I was reassured by the Israeli leadership that they’re working to strengthen the ties with Turkey; that’s a significant relationship that is longstanding. And I think your question gets to the risk that would be associated if those ties didn’t exist. I don’t see anything that would indicate that they don’t exist or wouldn’t in the future – it gets to some degree. But I think the importance of the relationship, certainly between Turkey and Israel, as well as the United States and Turkey and the United States and Israel, is critical in that region.

And what I certainly got from the brief visit I was there is the goal of working to – work through these difficult issues and strengthen that relationship for the reasons that that region is so critical. And historically, that relationship has been very important.

MODERATOR: Thank you all for coming. This event is now concluded.

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The official transcript will be posted here as soon as it's available.