Moderator: Good afternoon. I would like to welcome everyone joining us to today’s virtual press briefing on this week’s NATO foreign ministerial. Today, we are very honored to be joined by Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO.
Before I turn it over to Ambassador Hutchison for opening remarks, a few comments on the procedure for asking questions. If you are joining us via the Zoom link application, you may submit your questions at any time by clicking on the “Q&A” tab and typing in your question. If you see a colleague ask a question that you’d like the speaker to answer, you can ‘up–vote’ it in the queue by clicking the “Like” button to the right of that question. We will try to get to as many questions as possible in the 25 minutes that we have today, so please show your support and like the questions you’d most like us to cover. You can notify us of any technical difficulties by using the chat box or by emailing us at TheBrusselsHub@state.gov.
With that, let’s get started. Ambassador Hutchison, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks.
Ambassador Hutchison: Well, thank you, Justin. I’m very glad to have another opportunity to talk to the press the day before one of our ministerials, and of course this is the last ministerial of this year and will likely be the last one that I am able to participate in as well as our Secretary of State.
So I think, of course, the subjects are very important. There will be a session on China with our partners to make sure that we are now on the right path in addressing the issues that we all face in dealing with China and trying to make sure that we have everything in place to be able to deal with China in a clear-eyed way. Our Secretary of State will also do a briefing about Afghanistan and Iraq, and we will talk about Russia and the malign activities that Russia has participated in just even in the last few months.
Because it is my last ministerial, I want to say that I am very proud of the many accomplishments that we have made in my over three and a half years of being here and representing the United States. Most certainly, we have made a great stride in recognizing what China is doing in the last few years and bringing that to the forefront so that all of us can look at the Belt and Road Initiative, what is happening with COVID, the incredible South China Sea buildup. Those are things that we have to look at and determine what we are going to do to assure that nothing ever encroaches on our transatlantic bond. Hybrid and cyber have become major issues that we are dealing with together. Burden-sharing has improved so much in the last few years, where our allies have been asked to step up and do more in defense spending, and they’re doing just that.
We know, of course, that we’re going to be looking at a future for NATO going forward that will start with this ministerial and it will go on into next year with the next early summit, and that will be about NATO 2030. Every 10 years we look at where we are, and then we look at the ways that we need to adapt to move forward to assure our security umbrella is over both – both the North Atlantic as well as Europe. And I’m very pleased to see that 2030 is going to be a decade in which we increase our partnerships and we increase the cooperation that we have now.
NATO has – of course, we all know – 30 allies, but we have 40 partners as well. And the partnership of Western alliances that believe in freedom, in democracy and the rule of law, in the protection of human rights – all of these things draw us together, and I think we have done much more outreach to assure that we do have contacts going into other parts of the world where we have like–minded that want to band together to make sure that our Western culture is the culture that continues to have the freedom that we have fought so hard to keep.
So with that, Justin, I’ll be happy to answer questions that come from the press that are interested today.
Moderator: Thank you very much. We will now turn to the question and answer portion of today’s briefing. As a reminder, you may type in your questions at any time in the “Q&A” tab.
Our first question goes to us from – or is from Valeria Jegisman with Voice of America. Her question is, “NATO Secretary General mentioned during his press conference today that Russia and its military buildup around the alliance, including the increased presence and Belarus, is going to be one of the main topics of the ministerial meeting. Would you expand on Russia’s activities and what NATO sees as happening there?”
Ambassador Hutchison: Well, yes, we’re seeing Russia pop up in more and more places, and certainly not in a friendly environment. Belarus, Russia is supporting an election that clearly was not a free and fair election and is being threatening to the people who are protesting peacefully about that election, propping up another self–described elected–but–not–actually–elected person. And I think that’s one. But we’re looking at Nagorno–Karabakh, where Russia is now inserting itself. We are looking at what they are doing in Syria and most certainly in Libya.
So we see vestiges of Russian malign influence throughout the area that all of us are concerned about, and we will be talking about that tomorrow, most certainly, recognizing what Russia is doing and making sure that our deterrence and defense is matching what we need to assure that Russia does not encroach on any of our allies or any of our partners.
Moderator: Thank you very much. We have a couple of questions about Turkey. I’m going to choose a question here from Joyce Karam with The National. Her question is, “Turkey has been challenging NATO on several fronts: S-400s, Eastern Mediterranean, and the Nagorno-Karabakh region. What do you make of the Turkish role and its future in NATO? Thank you very much.”
Ambassador Hutchison: Yes. We are concerned about some of the Turkish behavior. Turkey has been a great ally for NATO and it’s a long – a long–time ally. But some of the behavior that has been mentioned is problematic to the unity of the alliance, and the alliance is strong because we are unified. So we are concerned, most especially about the S–400. The idea that you could put a Russian-made missile defense system in the middle of our alliance is out of bounds. And we have registered that with Turkey time and again, and we hope that before Turkey turns on that missile defense system that they will understand the consequences and how much it will hurt their alliance interoperability with the rest of us.
So I hope that Turkey is thinking about that, and I hope that they will turn back the decision that they made in error to put a Russian missile defense system into Ankara. So most certainly that many of us are trying to work with Turkey in a way that would cement our alliance unity, and we’re asking Turkey to once again be the great ally that they have been in the past.
Moderator: Thank you for that, Ambassador. We have a couple questions here from Nicholas Fiorenza with Janes Defence Weekly. He asks, “Is New START likely to be extended and plans for U.S. troop reductions in Germany to be finalized under the Trump administration?” And separately, “Can the U.S. troop reductions in Afghanistan be reversed by the Biden administration if the security situation worsens there?”
Ambassador Hutchison: Well, most certainly options are left open for the incoming administration in January. I think that the way that the – that this has been put forward does leave the decisions for the next administration to determine what is in their best interest and in the interest of the United States, of course. And I think that it is, of course, important that the administration that is coming in have the ability to look at the plans that have been made with regard to troops in Germany, troops in Europe. I want to say that the announcement about troops in Germany was also an announcement that the troop – all the troops that were there before would be in Europe. It’s just whether or not they stay in Germany or whether they are moved to other places in certain instances. So that has not been – well, it has been put forward, but it certainly will be open for another administration to look at where it is at the time that they take over.
So I think that there are many things that this administration, the incoming administration will do when they come in, and we are going to have a smooth transition so they have all the information they need to determine what the policy is as it stands, and when they review, as every administration would when they come in, what the options would be going forward for them to look at and make a determination.
Moderator: Thank you very much. You mentioned China in your opening remarks. We have a question here from Robbie Gramer with Foreign Policy Magazine. He asks, “Today, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg warned that China is investing massively in new weapons and coming close to us from the Arctic to Africa. What tangible policies does the administration believe NATO should undertake to confront China?”
Ambassador Hutchison: Well, I think it is very important that we assess the buildup of weapons systems that China has. One of the adaptations that NATO is making now is to have space be an operational domain. That was decided earlier this year by our ministers. That’s very important because China is very active in space, and there needs to be a lot of work in space to make sure that we have, hopefully, an ability to see where satellites are and determine what our deterrence and defense capabilities can be to assure that those cannot be used against us – against any of us. That’s just one area.
We’re also looking at the Belt and Road Initiative and making sure that we will have open sea navigation throughout the world. We don’t want any country to be able to stop navigation, which China’s Belt and Road Initiative would indicate that they are building up to have a lot of control over navigation that would affect trade as well as defense.
So these are two areas that we’re certainly watching and also making sure that we have the deterrence capability to assure that we have access to the skies and space, and also access to the sea through open navigation, as well as looking at their defense capabilities: what they’re building up and how we need to deter against that.
Moderator: Thank you very much for that. We have a question here from Maria Psara with Open Tv/Ethnos in Greece. She asks, “Do you have any comments about the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece?”
Ambassador Hutchison: Most certainly, NATO has taken a prominent position in trying to de–conflict in the Mediterranean, the Eastern Mediterranean, where there is a significant difference and a boundary dispute basically between Greece and Turkey. And we have a forum in which they can go to determine the genesis of that dispute and try to get a mediation of the dispute, which is causing the tensions that are now happening.
So yes, NATO is very much into a de-confliction between our two allies and trying to make sure that there is not an escalation of that tension.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Just as a reminder to the journalists who are on with us, please do remember to ‘up–vote’ questions that you’d like to see us answer. We do have a lot in the queue here but we want to make sure that we answer the ones that you want us to.
We have a question here from Jacques Hubert-Rodier with Les Echos in France. He asks, “Do you think that President-elect Joe Biden will change the course of NATO and be more pro–European than President Donald Trump?”
Ambassador Hutchison: Well, I want to say that America is very committed to NATO, and there is not going to be a change in that commitment. President-elect Biden certainly is pro–NATO. I served with him in the United States Senate, and I know he is very much a multilateral organization supporter. We like to have allies. He likes to have allies. And I think that is ongoing from this administration to the next administration.
I think that the President–elect’s first trip to Europe will be to NATO because he is such a supporter of the transatlantic bond, and also because that’s a tradition that American presidents have followed that their first trip to Europe, our major alliance, will be to NATO.
So I think there will be a seamless transition in support of our transatlantic bond and NATO and the United States. There will not be a difference; there will be a commitment to this transatlantic bond for our overall security for all of our publics.
Moderator: Great, thank you very much. There’s also a lot of interest in Afghanistan. We have a question here from Lailuma Sadid with Kavian Press in Belgium, and she asks, “Since intra-Afghan dialogue started, the Taliban have increased their violence against Afghan civilians. Do you believe the peace process is on a good track?” And she adds, “I’m a woman who was flogged by the Taliban in 1998. How am I to believe that the Taliban have changed their mind and will allow me to work as a journalist?”
Ambassador Hutchison: Well, first of all, we never thought this peace process would be easy, and clearly it has not been. We do not think the Taliban is keeping its word under the agreement. The violence is too high and the Afghan people and the Afghan soldiers have paid a heavy price. So we are really encouraging and asking the Taliban if they are serious about wanting to have a peaceful Afghanistan, that they will keep their word and stop the violence, have a ceasefire; that should be easy enough when they’re at the table talking about peace.
However, I do want to say, if you look at the alternative – should we ask everyone to walk away from the peace table? No, we shouldn’t, because that is the one hope that we have that we will be able to bring the parties together for the sake of all of the improvements that we have seen in the lives of Afghan people, and also to make sure that terrorists are not allowed to grow and prosper and foment in Afghanistan and be exported to any of our allies or partners.
I really sympathize with the woman, who said she had been flogged by the Taliban, and we all know that there were terrible stories of the treatment of women by the Taliban before NATO came in and America came in. We believe that that cannot hold – that you must have equal rights of women, education for girls, to have a lasting peace. And we are going to push for that, most certainly, and we think there is a good reason to hope that in 20 years there has been a change. But we are not going to see a lasting peace if we don’t stay at the negotiating table, try to bring the warring factors together to let the Afghan people have the lives that they deserve – in freedom, with education, with a community capability to have businesses that flourish. All of these things are dependent on that peace agreement working, and that is what we are hoping for and we hope very much that the Taliban has grown in 20 years and that the younger people that have come up seeing what can be improved with the education system that has gotten so much better and want to keep that for the lasting peace.
Moderator: Thank you very much for that answer. China is also on a lot of journalists’ mind. We have a question from Will Mauldin with The Wall Street Journal. “What specific threats does China pose to Europe and the North Atlantic, and what particular China–related issues does the U.S. hope to raise at the meeting? One thing that came up today: Are Communist Party members a potential threat at U.S. airports and seaports, and does the U.S. want to stop party members from easily accessing ports or the country at large?”
Ambassador Hutchison: Well, I think our eyes have been opened by China, and I think that we have seen in COVID, for instance, that there has been misinformation, mal–information given out about COVID, and even when equipment has been delivered it’s been faulty. So I think that China has done public relations, but that has not been followed with integrity.
We see the buildup in the South China Sea, the islands and the militarization of those islands. We see predatory lending, especially on infrastructure where China has gone into countries to start a building project for that country and then when it couldn’t – the loans couldn’t be paid back, China has taken the infrastructure. We have seen China take over ports throughout Europe.
What we’re looking at is making sure that we can keep the economics, that we can keep the trade, and that we can keep the security of our ports. And I think that the Belt and Road Initiative has made people much more wary of dealing with China. Look at 5G. Look at what China is doing with Huawei collecting data and information. Look at what they have done with Australia, a very large trading partner, when Australia basically kept Huawei from coming in to their 5G networks. China started saying this was unfair to them. They started threatening. They started cutting off exports from Australia.
This is just the beginning of seeing what China does when they have a major hold within a country, one as great and large as Australia, and they put out 14 complaints about Australia just exercising its basic sovereign rights. And that’s something that other countries, smaller countries, can look at and think, hmm, if they would do that with Australia, I wonder what my chances are.
Or India, where China attacked the Indians up on the border, the military, after they had an agreement with India that they would not attack at all. And yet they did last June. If they would do that with India, hmm, I wonder what they would do in other countries where they have some kind of border or some kind of trade agreement.
So I think these are things that are just coming out, and they’re coming out in the open press. It’s not intelligence we’re talking about. They’re coming out in the open press. So I think we have to be clear–eyed. We don’t want China to be an adversary. We would like to have trade agreements and economic exchanges with China on a free and fair basis. But right now, we’re not having a free and fair basis. We’re seeing intellectual property theft. We’re thinking – we’re seeing where China will subsidize corporations that are outside of the norms of the World Trade Organization.
So I just think right now that we in the United States and in NATO – and certainly the EU is beginning to see this as well – many examples of where China gets close and then they begin to be predatory. And if we can bring them into the world’s rules–based order, that’s what we want. We would love to have a strong and equal and fair trading partner, and one that we wouldn’t have to fear that is having a military buildup, but it isn’t what we’re seeing right now.
Moderator: Thank you very much for that. We have time for one final question, and that will go to Kjetil Stormark with Aldrimer in Norway. He has two questions. “Are there any last initiatives you have been instructed to take within NATO on behalf of the Trump administration?” And second, “What do you consider to be the main security and policy challenges ahead with respect to the northern flank of NATO, e.g., the Arctic, Norway, and the Northern Atlantic?”
Ambassador Hutchison: Well, most certainly, the Arctic area is very important for NATO. The high north is so – it’s important because so much more is happening there than ever before, and we’re seeing both China and Russia making a lot more forays through ships, submarines, as well as overflying boundaries. So we want to make sure that that we are prepared for all of this, that we understand what’s happening, and that we deter where necessary and that we share information where necessary. So the high north is very important. The Arctic area is very important for us.
I know we have not had any kind of instructions. In fact, we are going to work in a transition for a new administration coming in and we’re going to make sure it is smooth. That’s what we have in democracies and that’s what we’re going to produce.
Moderator: Thank you very much, Ambassador Hutchison, for being so generous with your time today. I’d also like to thank all the journalists on the line for your participation. Do you have any closing remarks before we go?
Ambassador Hutchison: Well, Justin, thank you very much. I’ll just say that I am very excited about the future of NATO. I think NATO 2030 is going to make NATO the – really the place where democracies and freedom–loving people come together to assure that we share information, that we have interoperations, that we have good relationships so that whatever we face, we will face together.
I think the NATO 2030 is going to be NATO partnerships, NATO reaching out to make sure that while we have provided the security umbrella over America and Europe, that includes making sure that outside forces that would attack any of us will have that security umbrella.
So going out into the future, the next 20 – the next 10 years in NATO, I’ll be so happy to be able to look at and see that is progressing for all the adaptability that we have produced and going forward have made NATO stronger. Thank you.
Moderator: Well, thank you again, Ambassador Hutchison, and thank you for your service to the alliance during your time here.
We will send links shortly to all of our participating journalists to the recording of this briefing and provide a transcript as soon as it is available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub@state.gov. Thanks again for your participation in today’s briefing and we hope you can join us for another one soon. This concludes the call. Thank you.