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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Outlook for the Brussels NATO Summit

Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, Permanent Representative of the United States to NATO; Ambassador Sarah Macintosh, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to NATO; and Ambassador Kerry Buck, Permanent Representative of Canada to NATO
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
May 23, 2018

MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. How are you? My name is Cheryl Neely with the Washington Foreign Press Center. I’m pleased to have you and all of our special guests here. I will not take too long to introduce them because we want to get started with the briefing. First, let me go over the ground rules. It’s on the record, on camera, but please embargo all media until the end of the briefing. So thank you very much.

So to very quickly introduce our briefers, today we have Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, permanent representative of the United States to NATO. She was appointed August 15, 2017. And prior to being with the State Department, she served as a U.S. senator from Texas, where she gained a lot of experience and developed a deep understanding of NATO as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

We also have with us Ambassador Kerry Buck, permanent representative of Canada to NATO. She’s a career diplomat. She mostly – she – pardon me – she served most recently as political director and assistant deputy minister for international security and political affairs from 2011 to 2015.

And finally, we have Ambassador Sarah MacIntosh, appointed permanent representative of the United Kingdom’s delegation to NATO in February 2017. She is a career diplomat who has served as director general, defense and intelligence, at the foreign office from May 2014 to November 2016.

Their full bios were linked in your invitation, so you can visit the websites for more details. And with that, we will start with remarks from Ambassador Hutchison. We’ll take remarks from each ambassador, and then we’ll open the floor to questions. I’ll come back up to open the floor.

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Well, thank you very much. Thank you for being here today. I’m very pleased to have my colleagues on the NATO Council, Ambassador Buck from Canada and Ambassador MacIntosh from the UK. We have had a wonderful couple of weeks, actually, visiting Washington. I was here last week with the Secretary General, meeting with the President and the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and our National Security Advisor. So I think that meeting went very well last week. I think the President and the Secretary General have a very good and strong relationship.

And we are all working toward the summit that is coming in July in Brussels. I think we have a good framework now for what we are going to be talking about in the summit, and I think that it is going to be a show of unity of NATO. Our common purpose, our security umbrella, is very strong, and we’re making it stronger. We will have a new national command structure offered to the heads of state. We will be, I think, seeing a very strong improvement in our mission, our NATO mission in Afghanistan, which is a joint mission with the Afghan – with the Afghan Government. I think that I have been – (sneezes) – excuse me. Sorry. Getting this nice, cool air.

So have been to Afghanistan twice since I became ambassador and have really seen such progress in that country. And I think ridding all of our countries of the threat of terrorism starts with our joint missions in Afghanistan, what we’re doing in counterterrorism in NATO, and we’ll certainly be continuing to help with the D-ISIS coalition in Iraq to try to help stabilize Iraq after their elections.

So I think there is a lot on our plate, and I think we’re going to have a very successful summit. And with that, let me call on – who decided to go second? Ambassador MacIntosh, my friend from the UK.

AMBASSADOR MACINTOSH: Well, thank you very much, Ambassador Hutchison. It’s great to be here in Washington to talk about NATO, because there’s so much going on in our alliance that we want to share with you. When our leaders meet together in Brussels in about 50 days from today, they do so against the backdrop of a pretty complex security environment and some rising threats from terrorism, extremism, and instability; from resurgent state threats and competition, stresses on the rules-based order, and a rapid pace of technological change. And NATO’s been adapting very rapidly to that security environment -- militarily, politically, and institutionally -- so that we are able to operate in this world.

And the adaptation’s going really well and it’s going really fast. And I hope you’ll forgive a list, but I want to give you a sense of the scale and the pace of the adaptation that we’ve been undertaking. So in 2017 alone, NATO deployed four combat-ready battle groups to the Baltic states and Poland. We built a 5,000-strong spearhead force. We tripled the size of the NATO Response Force. We extended our air policing and our NATO presence in the Black Sea region. We sent more forces to Afghanistan, we opened a hub for the south, and we took some new decisions on cyber. We welcome a 29th ally, Montenegro. We adopted a counterterrorism action plan for the first time. We joined the global coalition to defeat ISIL and we started capacity building in Iraq. We reformed our NATO information capacity, we created new analysis cells for counterterrorism and hybrid, and defense investment increased by $29 billion in one year. That’s the biggest increase in defense investment in a quarter century outside the U.S.

So by any measure, that’s a lot of change, but the challenges have continued to toughen, especially from Russia, but in all the areas that I mentioned: in instability and terrorism, in the rules-based order and in technological change. So when our leaders meet, they will adopt, we expect, new measures to strengthen deterrents and defense, to increase NATO’s contribution to counterterrorism and to projecting stability, and to strengthen NATO the institution. And the kinds of things that I would expect to see them doing are around military mobility, around early warning, around cyber and cyber defense. I would expect to see us offering more defense capacity building to our partners and more forces in Afghanistan, and we will see a new NATO command structure with a new joint force command for the Atlantic, a new logistics command, and a cyber operations center.

I think we will also see significant improvements in fairer burden sharing across the alliance, where considerable progress has been made, as President Trump and Secretary General Stoltenberg noted last week. But there’s further to go, and I would think we will see a real confirmation of the transatlantic bond and the unity that NATO holds. We stand together.

We in the UK have always understood that our security is bound to global security, and we invest in global security as the best way of keeping our people safe. That’s why we’re the second-biggest defense investor in NATO and the largest in Europe, and why we’re the only country to invest 2 percent of our GDP in defense and 0.7 percent in international aid. All the countries here contribute to NATO’s international missions, and we’re proud to do that – proud to do that too. And it’s why we’re passionate about the adaptation agenda in NATO and making a success of it. NATO’s the most successful alliance in history because it adapts as the world changes. And so as our world is changing, again, NATO is going to adapt again. It threatens no one, NATO; it’s a purely defensive alliance. But we do what it takes to deter threats and defend our allies if we need to. And NATO’s the bedrock of our security, and for my country, it’s the heart of our defense.

MODERATOR: Ambassador Buck.

AMBASSADOR BUCK: Thank you. Much like my two colleagues, Canada is a committed NATO ally and we have been from the start. And as Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a major foreign policy speech to our House of Commons last year, NATO is at the heart of Canada’s security policy. Why is this the case? We understand, as Ambassador MacIntosh just said, that no country in NATO, no ally can go it alone, particularly in this world of complex security threats. We see NATO as serving very firmly the security interests of Canada, and the security interests of North America, in a stable, secure Europe, but also in a stable, secure Euro-Atlantic space. For us, the core of NATO is about the transatlantic alliance, the place where we work alongside our closest partners and our closest friends, including the U.S. and the UK.

The summit is important; it will consolidate a lot of the big decisions that were taken post-2014, when our world changed, when the security environment changed significantly at the moment when Russia marched into Crimea, illegally crossing borders and attempting to annex part of Ukraine, and it started with the resurgence in 2014 of ISIL/ISIS, a non-state actor but with state-like aspirations that posed a significant terrorist threat. So we will be looking at this summit happening in July as a consolidation of a lot of the important decisions we took to respond to that shift.

Ambassador MacIntosh mentioned some of the specifics, but overall we will be looking for, expecting and getting a strong message of unity from all of the alliance, all of the allies. The bond is unshakable, and the willingness to act, both politically and militarily, to shared threats, to act as one, is the backbone of the alliance. And it’s also an important message of deterrence to the threats and the challenges posed by actors outside of NATO. I expect two specific areas – Ambassador MacIntosh has outlined a number of them, and I won’t go into the details. But consolidation of the deterrence and defense posture of NATO’s really important for us.

We act as a framework nation in Latvia for the new battle group that was deployed after the Warsaw Summit. We’re there with a number of allies, a multi-national battalion that sends a really strong message of deterrence to Russia. It will change Russia’s – it has changed Russia’s risk calculus. There’s an understanding now that if you seek to destabilize or take on one ally in the alliance, you have the entire ally – alliance ready to respond. And that’s a really important message of deterrence.

So overall, unity is the main message, but we’ll also consolidate our different deterrence and defense posture through beefing up of our maritime presence, the transatlantic lines of communication between Europe and North America, or cyber. More readiness, more military mobility and more situational awareness so there’s better prevention of potential threats, and better preparedness to act, as I said.

Second major area: NATO helping to build stability at its periphery by training, building defense capacity. NATO’s developed a network of 40 plus countries around its periphery, and those 40 plus countries are on all continents. It has a deepening relationship, not just with the UN but with the European Union, because with today’s complex threats, you have to work with partners, you have to work in alliances to achieve those things. So a number of partner countries – they’ll be a significant increase in the investment to help support their security.

I’ll mention Ukraine and Jordan and Iraq. Ukraine – Canada for instance, we put in almost three-quarters of a billion dollars since 2014 to help Ukraine along its path to reform and to meet Euro-Atlantic standards. We’ve got hundreds of troops training thousands of Ukrainian troops. We’re helping them build good governance, et cetera. So we expect to see more support to Ukraine. More support to Iraq, as Ambassador MacIntosh mentioned. We’re already in there doing counter-IED training under a NATO flag in addition to the hundreds of troops we’ve got with the coalition. And Jordan, we’ll be helping them to thicken their border and in the fight against terrorism in the region.

Finally, running through all of this is defense spending. Significant increase, 46 billion in new defense spending since 2014 from non-American – Canada, and European allies. So there’s a recognition that we have to do more, that’s fair.

Canada, for our part, we issued a new defense policy last year that shows a commitment to growing the capacities and the numbers of our people, our equipment, our cyber capacity, our R & D. There’ll be an increase of over 70 percent mapped out over the next 20 years, and significant investment in equipment. The main message is that we will contribute to the alliance’s adaptation, which has really been significant, as Ambassador Bailey Hutchinson and MacIntosh said. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you very much. And so we’ll open the floor to questions. As always, please wait for the microphone before stating your question. Also, when you get the microphone, please identify yourself with your name, your outlet and your country as well. And we may have a question from our New York Center by DVC. I think Oleg, you had your hand up first.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Oleg Merkulov, Vesti Media Group from Riga, Latvia. So with building up NATO troops close to the Russian border in the Baltics, how high is the risk of military – direct military confrontation with Russian Armed Forces, and what would be done to prevent such a scenario? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR BUCK: Well I’ll begin on that one, because we 're the framework nation in Latvia. We are very proud to be a framework nation in Latvia, working alongside the Latvian Defense Forces to bolster their capacity to deter Russian aggression and to change Russia’s risk calculus so there’s no temptation. Russia has since 2008 significantly reinvested in its defense forces, and it has changed some of its military doctrine – its military training doctrine to do a number of things that required more beefing up of the presence in the Baltics and Poland. Snap exercises of over a hundred thousand troops that exceed – significantly exceed the Vienna requirements for transparency without accompanying those snap exercises and troop increases along the eastern flank with reporting out to – under the Vienna document or with – responding with full transparency to NATO.

For instance, exercises that include a clear nuclear component. Exercises that paint scenarios where allied capitals are the target. So NATO responded accordingly with what is a very modest presence in the Baltics in Poland, one battle group in each of the three Baltics in Poland, and NATO’s also responding with full transparency – full transparency from NATO and all allies on our exercise program.

NATO’s also responded with a clear desire to dialogue with Russia, communicated to Russia, and we’re working now on the next NATO-Russia council. And we always insist that Ukraine be the first order of business when we sit down with Russia. At the same time, we deal with military transparency and the notion that we need to mitigate risk, and there are military-to-military channels that are quite active and working well.

And our last point is that we respond with unity – unshakeable unity. And the fact is there’s pretty high support amongst the Latvian population for the NATO presence. It’s really heartening to see. And as I said, I’m proud that we’re there and we’ve got a great working relationship with the Latvian defense forces and the Latvian Government and the Latvian people.

MODERATOR: Next question. Okay. Rafael.

QUESTION: Good morning and – Rafael Salido from EFE News from Spain. I have a question for Ambassador Hutchison: How can NATO allies really trust the U.S. right now in a moment where current administration is showing that it has its own agenda and that it’s acting regardless of the opinion of its most important allies, as we saw with the Iranian deal just a couple of weeks ago. How reliable – and especially, also considering that Trump – at the beginning of President Trump’s start, at the beginning of his presidency, he was pretty against some of the NATO aspects. How reliable? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: America is a reliable and constant partner with our European allies in NATO. Of course, any group is going to have disagreements within an alliance on issues that don’t affect the alliance, but there’s one thing to always remember: The NATO alliance has a common goal for a common defense. We are a security alliance. So while there may be disagreements on economic issues or other treaties, that is not something that is going to intrude on our NATO goals and our NATO commitment to each other for a security umbrella.

I think – I give the President great credit because everyone knows that in the campaign, he said that he thought NATO was really obsolete, but after talking to the people that he trusted and that he eventually put around him in his cabinet, they said NATO is very important. And he agrees, and he has said that he is absolutely committed to NATO. He knows that we are stronger as an alliance than any one of us could be alone, and he has followed through on that many times to say an attack on one of us is an attack on all.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

MODERATOR: I think I saw Gilles.

QUESTION: Gilles Paris, Le Monde newspaper. A quick follow-up on the question of my colleague. Still, there is also the rumors of wars on trade, and we can hear also Chancellor Angela Merkel mentioning that Europeans should take care of themselves, maybe more than in the past. So still, don’t you feel that there will be long-lasting tension on the transatlantic relation?

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Well, I think that the President is continuing to work with all of our allies, and I think that was seen by the meetings that he has had with the heads of state, the countries that are signators of the JCPOA as well as other of the – certainly there are negotiations going on on tariffs. I think what the President is trying to achieve is a parity in trade relationships. But that’s outside NATO.

In NATO, we are a security umbrella, we are a security force, a security alliance, and the most important and most successful security alliance in the history of the world. And while we may have trade differences or differences on other economic issues, our goals are common, and even on some of the outside influences, our goals are the same. How we may reach there is what is in discussion now.

So I think very much that we – are we seeing a change in the political climate, both in Europe and in the United States? Yes, we are. We’re seeing different populist movements. We’re seeing it in Italy right now, we saw it in France, we see it in Germany, and we see it in the United States. These are evolutions and I think all of us understand that while there may be bilateral discussions and even disagreements on especially economic issues, there is no disagreement on our NATO goals and our common defense of each other in NATO.

AMBASSADOR MACINTOSH: I might add, if I may, to that. I mean, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was here last week, and he had meetings with President Trump and with other very senior members of the government. And in the press conference afterward, President Trump said, for seven decades, NATO alliances stood proudly as the bulwark of freedom, security, and prosperity, and the strength of that alliance doesn’t depend only on military might, but also on the deep ties of history, culture, and tradition that unite us. And I think it’s really important to understand that a collective defense organization is a very special and unique thing. You defend allies when they’re in their toughest moments, and you rely on them for your defense when you are in your toughest moments. And that is a unique and it’s a special bond. It’s a one-for-all and all-for-one bond. It has to be undertaken on the basis of solidarity and shared purpose as well as burden sharing. And it’s really important not to misunderstand other discussions that happen or to get distracted by disinformation and other issues. Close friends talk honestly to one another, but they stand together.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Christoph, I saw your hand up earlier.

QUESTION: Christoph Von Marschall from the German daily Der Tagesspiegel. I would like to ask each of you about your expectations, how will be the discussions about Germany. It is a question of money but not only a question of money. The German Government has not committed to the 2 percent in our domestic discussions. They even say that this is not a binding commitment; it is just a commitment that every member should try to reach that goal, but it’s not binding.

And the second: Since we are also a framework nation in the Baltic states, in Lithuania in the German case, when I talked to General Hodges – and General Hodges is a former commander in Europe – he points out that infrastructure might be even more an important thing than just spending on investing more money in weapons, because the security of the Baltic states depends that, in the case we are able to transport in a very quick time additional troops to the Baltic states, and the infrastructure especially in Germany is not fit for that. We can’t unload in the ports, we don’t have train bridges, which are capable to have trains with heavy tanks on them, and so on, and so on.

So what are you expecting? What role might these questions play at the NATO summit? Or is it, as at every NATO summit, you don’t point out single countries, and that it’s just background talk but not a public subject because the alliance won’t want to see – want to be seen as divided?

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Well, I’ll start on that. I think the President had a frank discussion with Chancellor Merkel about Germany’s effort to not only spend more in defense, but also the other areas where Germany could be a leader and certainly should be because they are one of the most prosperous countries in Europe.

I think that when looking at Germany, first of all, Chancellor Merkel herself said to her party in the speech that she made a couple of weeks ago that she understands why foreign countries would say they’re not doing enough, and that they have a point. And I think she is showing a willingness to look at what they’re doing and try to do more in the alliance, but also bilaterally in Europe.

I think that also though Germany is doing a lot, and we all know and appreciate the contributions that Germany is making, in Afghanistan as a framework nation, in the enhanced foreign presence, as you have mentioned. In the area of mobility, it will be a very important effort that Germany can make that would allow, as you have pointed out, the ability to get troops that are stationed in Germany into the Baltics in case of a crisis.

So I think that there are many things that Germany does do and can do. And I think on the area of defense spending, we would look to Germany to be a leader because they can, they have the capability to spend more, and also to be a contributor in the technology and the ability in engineering to be a part of our joint solution and our overall goals.

AMBASSADOR BUCK: I’ve been tracking NATO for a couple of decades now in my career, and I have to say that the progress that Germany has made in terms of investment in their military and investment in NATO has been truly significant. Yes, German leadership recognizes that they need and want to do more. The entire alliance we need to do more, and we will do more.

But it’s not just about defense investment. It’s about contributions and consistent participation in NATO activities, NATO missions, and NATO political leadership. And Germany is there, as Ambassador Bailey Hutchison said. A framework nation in Lithuania, we were with them in Afghanistan, and they’ll do a lot of military mobility – your point – as will all of us heading into the summit.

The European Union will do more to make us all able to move troops and equipment needed more quickly, more efficiently across Europe. So that scenario, where NATO and the EU agree to work together, that will be something that we’ll have to work together on for a long time to come. I expect some discussions on that at the summit in July.

MODERATOR: Anything to add? Next question.

AMBASSADOR MACINTOSH: Just that it’s important to recognize that considerable progress has been made on the burden sharing across the alliance as a whole. Since 2014, an additional $46 billion has been invested in defense by allies not including the U.S. All allies are increasing their defense investment this year. So there is further to go, but considerable progress has been made, and it’s important to know that too.


QUESTION: Hello. My name is Ragip Soylu from Sabah newspaper of Turkey. As you know, Turkey seems adamant in going on with this S-400 deal with Russia. And American officials expressed their concern they feel about this issue, but is this something that is concerning NATO? What Canada and Britain think about this deal?

And secondly, if it is something concerning to American officials, aren’t there some silver linings, such as if a NATO country owns S-400 systems, that means it’s open ways to inspect and transfer some information and intelligence about these systems, finding their weaknesses and other issues? What do you think about it general? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR BUCK: Turkey is an important ally, a longstanding ally, and particularly important not just because they’re a stalwart contributor to alliance activities and decisions, but because of where Turkey sits geo-politically. We think it’s vitally important to have a primarily Muslim nation in the alliance. It increases our legitimacy. It’s the right thing to do. And where Turkey sits geo-politically, they absorb so much of the impact, the negative impact of the conflict in Syria and Iraq. So we respect that investment and we respect Turkey as a strong ally.

As both ambassadors said, friends can have frank discussions and there are differences of opinion at time. The S-400 purchase contains some risks, and we’ve spoken clearly to Turkey about those risks, about how to mitigate those risks. The conversation will continue, but my first message stands about Turkey as a very important ally that we value inside the alliance, and that’s an important message that we also deliver when we deliver those differences of opinion, which we do have.

AMBASSADOR MACINTOSH: I would say very similar. The relationship that my country enjoys with Turkey is important, it’s strong, and it’s indispensable to us. We’re both NATO allies committed to the alliance as the best way of guaranteeing our security. We’ve both suffered from bad terrorist attacks; we’re both aware of the risk of foreign fighters dispersing from Syria and Iraq, and we’re working together to counter terrorism.

We recognize that Turkey is on the front line of a number of issues that are difficult and is an important member of NATO, of the alliance, of the Global Coalition, and we pay tribute to Turkey for hosting a large number of Syrian refugees, and we’re proud to support Turkey in doing that. Allies and friends can have differences of views. National equipment purchases are – Jens Stoltenberg says for NATO they’re a matter of national decision, but this one carries some risks and we discuss it too.

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Let me just add one point. I’m in total agreement with my colleagues that Turkey is such an important ally for NATO. But the purchase of the S-400 is very serious, because you can’t have a Russian missile defense system interoperable with any NATO system or any capability in our arms, in our aircraft. And it complicates the relationship so much to have something in a NATO ally that cannot be interoperable with NATO operations.

So that’s the problem that we’re working on and hoping to find a solution, because absolutely all of us value the Turkish part in the NATO alliance. They have been there in every mission we’ve had since they joined the alliance, and they’re a very important partner. But no partner in NATO has ever purchased a Russian system that is not capable of being interoperable with our NATO systems. That’s part of our overall security umbrella.

MODERATOR: Next question. Marek.

QUESTION: Marek Walkuski, Polish public radio. The Government of Poland has been asking for some time for more U.S. troops on Poland’s territory and for more NATO infrastructure. This was a topic of yesterday’s discussion between the foreign minister of Poland with the – with Secretary Pompeo. I’m wondering if you see this expectation as justified, and can we expect any discussions or decisions during the Brussels summit?

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Well, I’ll just say that America is the framework nation for the Polish enhanced foreign presence, and we have even a separate American deterrence presence in Poland. And we continue to assess what Russia is doing that is – attacks on many levels – (audio interruption).

STAFF: Very sorry.

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: That’s (inaudible).

STAFF: Excuse us. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Not the kind of impact we wanted to make. (Laughter.) We are continuing to assess the many areas of warfare that Russia is putting into our NATO countries, and we will deter and defend where we see a threat that needs to be built on.

MODERATOR: Anyone else on that question? Okay. We have time for one more question if there are any others – yes. Is it Pablo?

QUESTION: Thank you. Pablo Pardo from El Mundo, from Spain. Ambassador Hutchison, based on your previous comments, can we say that President Trump has had, like, a change of heart regarding NATO from when he was a candidate in the – he was even questioning sometimes implicitly Article V – and now?

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: I think the President has made it very clear and publicly that he absolutely is a partner in NATO, he believes in NATO, he is committed to Article V, just like all of us are. And I think that it is to his credit that he has listened to what his experts around him have told him about NATO, and there really isn’t anyone – and I have to say, when I was going through my confirmation and meeting with Democratic senators as well as Republican senators, we are in a bipartisan country in a bipartisan Congress, and in this administration committed to NATO in the fullest way.

MODERATOR: Thank you. And that concludes our briefing. I’d like to thank you all again for coming. I’d like to especially thank our three ambassadors for taking time out of your very busy schedule to be with us on this very rare opportunity to have all three of you here together. So once again, thank you.