printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Previewing the NATO 70th Anniversary Foreign Ministerial

Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, United States Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Washington, DC
April 2, 2019


MODERATOR: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for waiting. We’re very, very pleased to welcome this evening Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is the United States Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. She’s going to preview the NATO 70th Anniversary Foreign Ministerial, which is going to run tomorrow and Thursday here in Washington. Her bio was in the briefing announcement, so I’ll not quote from it here. Just to go over a couple of house rules: This event is on the record. We’ll have some brief introductory remarks followed by a brief Q&A, and I’ll apologize in advance, we’re on a very tight schedule. With that, I’ll turn it over to Ambassador Hutchison.

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Well thank you very much, and I’m very pleased to be back in one of my old stomping grounds. It’s good to see all of you. And we are very excited, and our ambassadors that we all brought into Washington are excited from NATO. And I was with the secretary-general on the way in as well, and he’s looking forward to the joint session of Congress. It is the first time that a head of an international organization has been invited to address a joint session of Congress, and he’s very please and we are as well, because I think it signals that we have bipartisan support in Congress for NATO. We also have the support of the American people for NATO. There was a poll out recently that showed overwhelming support by America for NATO.

And so we’re going to have a 70th anniversary. Just a moment about that: 70 years of peace and prosperity is what NATO has produced for Europe and North America, and I don’t think that anyone could argue that the umbrella of security is what has given the vitality in our economies, because investments are made in places that are considered safe and secure. And I think that one of the main ways that NATO has been able to build and gain strength and – after 70 years – is our ability to adapt, to see what the risks are and adapt to those risks.

The risks today most certainly are Russian behavior, the aggression that we saw recently in the Kerch Straits when they attacked and captured the three Ukrainian ships and took their sailors to prison. We will be talking about that in the next two days at this foreign ministerial. It’s unacceptable that they would be holding those Ukrainian sailors in prison in Moscow right now. And so we are going to make sure that we have the capability to deter a very aggressive Russia.

In addition, we will be talking about, of course, the counterterrorism, our mission in Afghanistan. NATO is, of course, a part of the Resolute Support Mission, which has 41 partners in the mission to try to assure that we don’t have terrorist networks that can build in Afghanistan and be exported to our country or any country in our NATO alliance.

We will be talking about Russia’s violation of the INF Treaty, which is going to require that the INF Treaty be dismantled. America will have to withdraw because Russia has been violating, we have documented, for over five years, and we now need to be able to prepare our deterrence for the violating missiles.

We will be talking, of course, about burden sharing. That is something that the President has focused on. And the President’s pressure on our allies to do more is creating a better awareness by our allies and more spending by our allies for their own defense. When we talk about the defense spending that we’re asking our allies to do, that our allies have committed to do, that is important for our overall capabilities. We have to have the ships and the airplanes and the helicopters and the tanks to be able to have that overall deterrence that we have discussed. And of course, we are asking our allies to do more to meet the 2 percent pledge that they all made, most recently in Brussels, but before that in Wales and Warsaw.

So we have quite a full agenda, and it’s going to be a good foreign ministerial event. We will start tomorrow with the joint session of Congress, where the secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, will speak, and he will talk about the 70-year celebration and all that we’ve accomplished in 70 years. And then the foreign ministerial meeting with our 29 allies, foreign ministers, will be April the 4th, which is the actual 70th anniversary, where we’ll talk about our situation today and our future for security for all of us.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Let me just quickly go over our rules. Can I ask, please, that you wait for a microphone; when you get the microphone, identify yourself by name and outlet; and please, limit yourself to one question so we can get in as many rounds as possible. For our New York colleagues, please step up to the podium if you want to ask a question.

And we’ll start right here.

QUESTION: Paolo Mastrolilli with the Italian daily newspaper, La Stampa. Thank you very much for the briefing. Italy is one of the countries that are not paying 2 percent of the GDP, and they are --

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Yes, I heard you. Italy is not one, yes.

QUESTION: Italy is one of the countries that are not investing 2 percent of the GDP in defense. It’s considering to cut the F-35 program. It’s asking for a cyber security investment to be considered as part of the 2 percent for the defense. What is your message on this issue to the Italian Government?

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: We hope Italy will continue to increase spending so that they do get toward the 2 percent. Italy is an important ally. They are a framework nation in Afghanistan, which means they’re one of the four nations that has division headquarters in Afghanistan, and they’re doing a great job there.

Now – I’m sorry, excuse me. They’re doing a great job in Afghanistan, and they’re in other missions. But what we need in the defense spending is to have all of the capabilities for our security needs, and it takes Italy stepping up to the plate. It takes all of us stepping up to the plate. And right now Italy is not there, and we are encouraging them to increase their spending capabilities while at the same time recognizing the very important missions in which they are contributing.

MODERATOR: We’ll take ZDF, please. We’ll get a mic over to you.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Ambassador Hutchison. I am with German television, ZDF. You mentioned yesterday that you will take the Germans by their word that they will commit 1.5 percent until 2024. What if that’s not going to happen, as it looks like right now?

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Well, let me take the opportunity to also be clear on the message that I gave yesterday at NATO Headquarters that it is very important in Germany, but throughout our alliance, that we have the message out to the publics so that they understand the importance of the defense spending and why it’s necessary. It’s necessary because of the risk that we all face from an aggressive Russia with malign influence throughout our alliance that Russia is producing, also counterterrorism, and many of our countries are facing terrorist attacks as well as cyber and hybrid attacks.

And what I said is we need to message our publics so that they understand the importance of getting to that 2 percent so their parliaments and their Bundestag get to the point of understanding this is essential. Chancellor Merkel talked to President Trump the week before last and committed that they were going to continue to go toward 2 percent and that they would reach 1.5 percent in their budget projections by 2024. And I know that Chancellor Merkel is pushing for that, and I think she has kept her word in every way, and I believe she will do that as well and keep her word to keep going toward 1.5 percent in 2024, but beyond to continue to go toward 2 percent.

MODERATOR: We’ll take one from New York, please, and then we’ll come back down to Washington.

QUESTION: Thanks very much. This is Manik Mehta. I am a syndicated journalist. My question to Madam Ambassador: What is your take on Turkey’s long-term membership in the alliance, especially after its decision to purchase Russian aircraft? Can Turkey be expelled from the alliance if it refuses to reverse its decision? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Well, let me say that we are doing everything – our NATO allies are very concerned about the buying of the S-400, which is a missile defense system made in Russia. It can’t be interoperable with NATO missile defenses and our airplanes, and the United States is very concerned about Turkey having our F-35s in proximity to an S-400 Russian system because there could be a transfer of information, communications, or even an interruption of that.

So it’s a very serious issue. Turkey is a very important ally. They are an ally. They are also carrying a heavy load in our NATO missions. They too are a framework nation in Afghanistan, and they are participating in all of our missions and they have since the beginning of NATO. So we want Turkey to stay in the alliance. We want them not to have a Russian missile defense system in the middle of their country that cannot be interoperable with NATO.

MODERATOR: Let me take Bulgarian radio on this side, please.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Mladen Petkov, Bulgarian National Radio. So ministers are expected to discuss the Black Sea tomorrow, measures concerning the Black Sea. What do you expect to see as a package coming out of those discussions?

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Well, I think that we have been working on a package to present to the foreign ministers, and it is a package that beefs up the surveillance, both air surveillance as well as more of the NATO country ships going into the Black Sea to assure that there is safe passage from Ukrainian vessels through the Kerch Straits, the Sea of Azov. And it is very important for Bulgaria as well as the other countries surrounding the Black Sea that we have more attention to assuring that those waters are cleared and also that the countries in and around the Black Sea are safe from Russian meddling. Russia is putting defensive weapons in Crimea. Crimea is part of Ukraine. And it is very important that Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine, as well as Georgia, have the security in that Black Sea area both for ships but also for their land-based safety.

MODERATOR: Okay, in the back with the jacket and glasses, please.

QUESTION: Philippe Gelie with the French daily Le Figaro. Thank you, Madam Ambassador. Two quick question, if I may. The President again alluded this morning to raising the target from 2 percent to maybe 4 percent. Is it something that should be taken seriously by the other members?

And regarding what exactly the U.S. would like NATO to do with regard to China. Thank you.

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Well, first of all, on your second part, NATO is now assessing what China is doing. They’re clearly getting much more active in especially seaports. China is buying rights into seaports in Italy as well as in other parts of the world. They’re getting very active in container port investment.

We are also very concerned about the 5G networks that Chinese companies have the capability to deliver but also, because of Chinese law, have a responsibility – if the Chinese Government asks for information that is proprietary, they would be required to give that to the Chinese Government, which is what is of concern to NATO countries because we want to make sure that our communications systems are secure. So if a country is investing in the 5G infrastructure that could interrupt our NATO communications or, again, have our NATO communications be distorted or disrupted, that is a very serious issue for NATO.

So we’re looking at the risk. We are assessing risk. We’re much more active in doing so with China. We don’t consider China an adversary. We want to have free and fair trade with China. I know America is certainly working on a trade agreement in which China would abide by the World Trade Organization, the rules-based trade capabilities that every country should abide by, and to assure the security of technology so that you don’t have intellectual property theft. So all of these things are now certainly being looked at, both in NATO and in the United States, regarding China.

On the first part of your question – oh, the 4 percent. I think that the President believes, and many of us believe, we spend approximately 4 percent. I believe it is important that we put security first. So when the President says we shouldn’t be talking about 2 percent, we should be talking about 4 percent, that’s not a new goal that NATO is setting at all. But it is saying that we value security above everything, above economic trade or anything else. You first have to be secure; that provides the trade capabilities. And 2 percent is not asking too much to make sure that we have the capabilities we need. That’s my first point.

But my second point is: If we’re looking to the future, the kinds of weapons systems that we are seeing some of the people that – or countries that we might have to fight someday – it could be Russia, it could be China, it could be North Korea, it could be Iran. The systems are so advanced now and so expensive, and we’re talking about space, and the United States is beginning to have a new effort in space on the security front. We’ve got to realize that if we’re going to keep our population safe, that we have to be willing to make the investments to do that.

So there’s no new goal out there. We spend approximately 4 percent. We just want our allies to step up and work with us on an equal basis so that it provides an umbrella that makes us strong. We have 29 members now. We’ve gone from 12 in 1949 to now 29 going on 30. We hope that North Macedonia will be a new member later this fall. And that 29 is approximately 50 percent of the gross domestic product of the world, so we are stronger together. If we’re going to face a major adversary, we need the strength that that gross national product – gross domestic product would produce. That’s what we’re talking about. It’s not a percentage; it’s all of us coming together to do what’s necessary to protect our people, whether it’s star wars or space wars or submarine wars or anything that could be made that will cause our people not to be safe.

MODERATOR: Okay, we’re coming up on time. I will take one single question from New York, please, ma’am, and then I’ll take one more down here.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Anna Guaita with Il Messaggero from Rome. Madam Ambassador, some days ago, President Trump has talked about the possibility of asking from Americans’ allies cost plus 50 percent from countries that --

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Is her microphone on?

MODERATOR: Yeah, can you hold on one second, ma’am? We’re having trouble hearing you down here. Try again.

QUESTION: I don’t understand. Can you hear me?

MODERATOR: Yes, now – please lean towards your mic, please.

QUESTION: All right. Where should I start from, from the beginning?

MODERATOR: From the beginning, please.

QUESTION: All right, okay. My name is Anna Guaita with Il Messagero from Rome. Madam Ambassador, a few days ago, President Trump has talked about the possibility of imposing a cost plus 50 percent from the allies that host American soldiers in their bases. Is this just an idea that was thrown there so – or is it something that has been studied and can be implemented in the future? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Well, I’m just going to quote the Acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan, who in his Senate hearing just recently said that that is not something that they are looking at, that we are not a charity and we’re not a business made for profit. We are – we have bases overseas and part of our NATO operations are bases overseas. We do want to have those bases that are for the support and protection of other countries to be remunerated in some ways, but it’s a mixture and that is not on the table at all.

MODERATOR: And the last question, this gentleman in the gray coat and blue tie, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Elie Youssef from AlSharq Alawsat newspaper. Thank you, Madam Ambassador. The establishment of NATO in the wake of the World War II reversed the balance of that war and thus gave America political, economic, and military advantages in return for the majority of spending. Asking those countries to pay their share does not mean reconsidering America’s position and privilege at this stage?

AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: I think that your question is, is America committed to the alliance? Yes, absolutely. We are a part of NATO. We were one of the original members of NATO, and yes, the President is asking our allies to step up and pay more of the costs of NATO. But we do pay the lion’s share of the costs, and that is something that we always will assure that we cover the costs that are for the security of our people.

And we expect to do more. We are doing more in Europe right now. We have a European defense initiative that is added to the enhanced forward presence of troops in Europe – NATO troops plus American troops that are acting alone. So we work together. We just want to know that everybody is putting in and being a part of an alliance, because that makes the alliance much more unified, much stronger, and much able – much more able to assess the risks that we have and know that we have the capability to do what is necessary for the security of our people.

In our goals that were set in our latest assessment in NATO of our command structure, we have a goal of four 30s: 30 air squadrons, 30 battalions, 30 warships in 30 days anywhere in our alliance that they need to be. That is the goal of deterrence so we can meet any challenge that might come to any of our countries, and America is committed to that.

MODERATOR: And with that, I’m afraid we’ll have to bring things to a close. I want to thank Ambassador Hutchison for joining us this afternoon.


MODERATOR: If you did have questions – and I know we left a lot of them on the floor – you know how to email me, or if you don’t, come and find me and we’ll make sure we get it to someone who can answer it for you. Thank you very much for coming this evening.

# # #