Berlin Press Roundtable
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
When the Obama administration began, we did so with the realization that we faced some very daunting challenges throughout the world, and as we thought about how to deal with them we understood that the United States alone couldn’t deal with those challenges, needed strong partners, and there are no better partners in the world than a democratic, like-minded, militarily capable and prosperous Europe.
So as we look at the challenges we face, whether it’s the world economy or Iran or Afghanistan, we are cooperating very closely with our European partners and Germany is a critical one in that regard.
There are lots of things we can talk about in Europe, transatlantic and around the world, and I’m looking forward to hearing what’s on your mind.
QUESTION: I would like to know, we are talking in Europe in many countries about cutting back on our military, especially in Germany there has been a new course presented. I would like to know whether the Germans or the Brits, when they’re doing this are they consulting with you and other NATO allies in order to have alliance [inaudible] that it might infringe on our responsibilities as NATO partners, or is every country doing this by itself?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Every country is looking at its national military capabilities and its defense budgets, particularly in a time of austerity and the need for cuts. Those are national decisions and all countries including Britain and Germany are making their national decisions on their own.
Of course there’s a general conversation going on about defense needs. As we run up to the NATO Summit in Lisbon there is a common conversation about what we all need to do in order to keep NATO strong. Secretary Gates certainly underscores that the strategic concept that we’re in the process of drafting will only make any sense if we have the capabilities to back up the commitments that we’re making. So as a general rule we’re all in touch with each other about defense spending and the need to maintain defense spending, but decisions like the size of the Bundeswehr is a national decision that the German government is going to make.
QUESTION: There is a certain disappointment I think here in Berlin. You've heard the comments probably, the very unfriendly comments about the Finance Secretary’s letter to his colleagues at G20. How do you explain that there seem to be serious problems at least on the side of economic cooperation between Europe and especially Germany and the United States.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: There are serious problems with the world economy. We are all facing a very serious financial situation. We’ve just gone through one of the biggest financial crises since the Great Depression, and it is the most natural thing in the world for there to be serious discussions and debates about how to deal with it. I think broadly speaking, the United States and Europe share not only the same goals but the same approaches. But the reality is nobody knows exactly the right balance between the need for fiscal austerity, but at the same time the need to avoid the recession through growth-stimulating spending. That’s a debate that’s going on. Since nobody has the answers it’s understandable that there’s a vigorous debate about it.
QUESTION: Just coming back from a little NATO briefing by the German government. I wonder what is in the American point of view the main topic in Lisbon. What is the main topic for you regarding a new NATO strategic view? The second question, what do you think causes the big change in the NATO-Russia relationship? Is it just the absence of Bush?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: There are several things in there.
For the NATO Summit in Lisbon, as you know NATO is revising the Strategic Concept for the first time in ten years. That’s a chance for allies to come together and assess the new security situation which is in many ways different from the one ten years ago. Not dramatically different in the way that it was pre- and post-end of the Cold War, but significantly different and it’s a chance for us to assess. And of course the Strategic Concept hasn’t been finalized yet, but there’s a draft provided by the Secretary General. It looks at those new security challenges.
The result in our view will have to be a balance between NATO’s traditional goal of defense of all allies, reaffirming Article 5 which remains the core of the Alliance; but at the same time acknowledging that there are new threats and challenges out there including terrorism and cyber attacks and proliferation and ballistic missile proliferation that the Alliance needs to grapple with. We hope that document will reflect this consensus view and I actually think it does.
Ten years ago the debate about the Strategic Concept was very difficult across the Atlantic on things like the balance between European defense and Atlantic defense, the role of the UN, the idea of out-of-area operations. We’re beyond most of that. There really is a consensus on this.
Another important aspect of it is going to be the missile defense question. The United States believes there is a growing threat posed by proliferation of ballistic missiles. There is also the risk of nuclear proliferation. You put those two things together, it creates a requirement for missile defenses that we have been pursuing. The United States has proposed the phased, adaptive approach to missile defense. All allies have recognized that there’s a ballistic missile threat and that missile defenses can help deal with that threat. We would like to see the Alliance agree to a territorial missile defense mission at the Lisbon Summit so that NATO does this altogether.
QUESTION: A follow-up, if I may. When do you think a new threat like a cyber attack or so is a real war and connected with Article 5 of the NATO Charter. It seems to me, and to some other colleagues, that it is not that easy to define those new threats in terms of the NATO Charter.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I want to get to the other parts of your first question which include Afghanistan and the NATO-Russia relationship.
But on that specific question, a distinction needs to be made. Article 5 is very clear. There’s a treaty and the treaty hasn’t been changed and it defines under Article 5 an armed attack on a member of NATO. There’s not a debate about changing Article 5. It is what it is and it means what it says.
That said, the discussion is about allies who have common security interests understanding the new security situation in which we live and developing the means to deal with it. Article 4 provides for consultations on any subject that allies feel threatens their common security, and any actions by consensus can be taken by the Alliance. So it’s important to keep a distinction between the very clear meaning of Article 5 and the other threats and challenges that NATO is dealing with.
We have many common interests and face many of the same security challenges, and in that sense this political organization can get together and develop the tools to deal with those threats.
But just to make sure we complete the thinking about the Summit itself. In addition to the Strategic Concept and missile defense and dealing with new challenges that I mentioned, Afghanistan will obviously be critical. The Alliance is engaged in its biggest operation ever. All allies in one way or another are contributing to ISAF and the role in Afghanistan. It’s critically important for all of us. And the Summit will be an opportunity to review the NATO operation in Afghanistan and set out a clear path forward for our common success. We have particularly been focused -- The United States is deeply grateful for the contributions that all allies make. We know how difficult this is for every country in the Alliance, sending troops and trainers and money, but we think we have a common interest in doing so, and the strategy runs through preparing Afghan National Security Forces and training them while supporting the Afghan government to the point that we can begin to withdraw.
Nobody wants to leave their troops in Afghanistan forever. The additional contributions that we’ve seen from allies will help us reach that goal.
I want to underscore that point in the context of the other questions that have been asked about defense budget cuts and potential differences. For all of the natural and understandable desire to cut defense spending and limit deployments in Afghanistan, there are more European troops in Afghanistan than there ever were before. Over the past year allies have increased, not decreased, their troops in Afghanistan as obviously has the United States. They are increasing the numbers of trainers as we speak. I think it just shows a common commitment to success in Afghanistan, even in very difficult circumstances.
The last part of your question was about Russia. I can’t speak for the previous administration or where things stood. I will just say it was certainly a priority of the Obama administration to transform the relationship with Russia, which was not in good shape when the President took office. He had a very clear strategy of finding common interests with Russia, of which we believe we have many, ranging from non-proliferation to combating terrorism to the economy and much more. And while we also have some significant differences, and we’ve been clear about those differences, the President’s view is that we could work together in the areas of common interest while being clear about what the differences were. We think we’ve been doing that for nearly two years now, reached a number of important agreements -- the new START agreement, lethal transit across Afghanistan, Russian cooperation on Iran. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re now cooperating more closely and more effectively with Russia.
We hope and believe that that will spread to the NATO-Russia context, and we’re pleased that President Medvedev has accepted NATO’s invitation to come to have a NATO-Russia Council at the Summit level in Lisbon. There are thing that NATO and Russia can do together to foster our common security interests. And just as the U.S.-Russia relationship is improving, we think and hope that the NATO-Russia relationship will improve.
QUESTION: On the subject of Russia and missile defense, how likely do you think it is that we’ll be able to get Russia to come on board as far as missile defense is concerned? And do you actually think that there might be a breakthrough at the NATO Summit in Lisbon?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We want to do this cooperatively with Russia. The United States has made clear and it’s the view of all of the allies that missile defense is not targeted at Russia. It’s not designed to deal with the Russian capability. What has been proposed would not undermine Russia’s strategic deterrent. There is a growing ballistic missile threat from the Middle East that’s real. It consists primarily for the moment of short and medium range ballistic missiles. Eventually it will consist of longer range ballistic missiles. That means first and foremost the capability would be there to strike Europe, European territories, European troops, deployed American troops in Europe. And therefore what President Obama has proposed is a capability to deal with that.
It’s not about Russia. On the contrary, we believe Russia has a common interest because it faces the same potential threat in working with NATO together on missile defense.
I can’t predict what will come out of the Lisbon Summit on this score. I can say that we have proposed resuming theater missile defense exercises with Russia. We would like to see Russia cooperate with the developing plans to implement the phased adaptive approach to missile defense. We’ll wait for Russia’s answer. The Russians have made clear that -- Their very strong opposition to the previous administration’s plan was to a different plan. We are trying to work with them to make clear that President Obama’s plan is not targeted at Russia, doesn’t threaten Russia, and is something we have a common interest in.
QUESTION: Mine was actually the very same question, but just to expand on it. In the discussions before did the Russian -- the contention always was that if it’s really not geared against us why don’t you involve us directly. Put radar arrays in Russia, that sort of thing. Is that on the table in this plan?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Lots of different options are on the table once Russia signals its willingness to participate and interest in participating. There are a lot of different ways this could go, and that’s not excluded either. As I said, we’ve been absolutely clear that we want to do this cooperatively with Russia. It’s not targeted at Russia. And we look forward to discussing a very wide range of possibilities on the technical side and political side with Russia.
QUESTION: Before the Deauville Summit an American diplomat was put in the discussions and concern that the French and the Germans were kind of "going rogue" with Russia and making all kinds of security relationships on the side against NATO or the transatlantic alliance. I’m wondering to what extent those concerns really are real to you and to what extent they’ve been allayed by what happened in Deauville and to what extent you’re talking to your German interlocutors about this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, we talked to our German and French interlocutors before the Deauville Summit, after the Deauville Summit. I indicated earlier that some of the divisive debates about NATO and European security in the run-up to the last Strategic Concept have been put behind us and I think that is the frame for Deauville now.
We have confidence that France and Germany and their leaders broadly share our views and interests when it comes to European security, and we had confidence prior to Deauville that their message would be consistent with our common message at NATO. In retrospect we think that it was.
It’s hard to see the differences that people were looking for between the French and German approach to European security and our own as we head towards the NATO Summit, and I listed some of the things that were focused on.
Obviously we want to be part of the European security discussion and if conversations were going on that somehow we’re taking that in a different direction, it would be something for the United States to be concerned about. But I think that we are very much on the same page with our French and German colleagues, and just as we speak to the Russians bilaterally, we don’t find a French/German discussion with the Russians to be particularly problematic.
QUESTION: Your use of the word “broadly” makes me wonder whether in detail there might be some misgivings or --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No. I don’t know what it would be. I say broadly because I don’t want to suggest somehow that you couldn’t find the slightest difference in every last detail of what might be part of a discussion. But I don’t know -- When you take the big issues of the day. On Afghanistan, we have the Common Strategy and we’re doing the same thing. On NATO and the priorities I mentioned for Lisbon, we are in the same place. They, like we, want Russia to be integrated into the European security picture. We’re really pursuing the same European security strategy right now.
QUESTION: So the concerns that were expressed before the Summit sort of off the record or on background, these were groundless?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah, I didn’t see anything in the Deauville Summit that is a cause of concern for the United States.
QUESTION: Does that mean that the Russian ideas about wanting to have a new security framework are actually complete “pie in the sky”?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We have said, and Secretary Clinton has made clear, that we don’t believe there’s a need for a new European Security Treaty. The Russians have proposed at the OSCE a European Security Treaty, and they’ve proposed at NATO a new NATO-Russia Treaty. And while we remain open to all conversations about European security with our Russian friends and others, we don’t believe a treaty is necessary or practical. There are already some pretty good European security institutions in place. We should make better use of them. There are some good principles for European security in place and we should uphold them.
The idea of trying to negotiate among 50-some countries a new treaty that would be not only hard to negotiate and ratify but to enforce doesn’t seem to us the most productive use of our time when there are other, more practical things that we can get on with. Indeed, I think you’ll be able to tell from everything I’m saying that we’re trying to pull this entire discussion in the practical direction. Rather than having big theoretical disputes or debates or discussions about institutions and treaties and principles, we have joint projects we need to get on with, both the United States and its European allies, and then also including Russia.
So that’s our view of the NATO-Russia Council coming up. Let’s try to avoid theological discussions and get on with practical projects that will show people that we actually do cooperate for our common security.
Getting back to the Deauville issue and the French and the Germans. I said we’re on the same page and therefore don’t find it a problem. Just think about the big issues. I mentioned Afghanistan. I mentioned integrating Russia into the European security picture. I don’t think the French and the Germans want to see or believe that we can negotiate and ratify a new treaty with Russia either, so I’m sure Russia heard the same thing from them about that.
If you go to the areas where we have some differences with Russia beyond the question of the need for a new treaty, Georgia, I think that the Russians would have heard the same thing from the French and the Germans that they hear from us. Objectives for the OSCE Summit, I think they would have heard the same thing from the French and the Germans as from us. So we’re in very close touch with our European partners and we think that the message to Russia at Deauville was very similar to the message that we give the Russians ourselves.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up with one thought about practical things? I’m baffled by the lack of apparent focus on the danger of cyber war and the relationship to Article 5. We’ve seen examples of Russia using cyber war both against Estonia and against Georgia. One a NATO member, one not, wanting to be. And Germany’s incredibly hesitant about putting it into Article 5. You’ve made it clear you're not going to put anything into Article 5. And yet it’s one of the most real and immediate and dramatic threats that any of us can face.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Don’t think that we’re not making the potential cyber threat and the need for defending against cyber threats a major priority either for the United States or for NATO. President Obama domestically has defined this as an urgent major challenge and tasked the United States government to focus on it as a top priority. He’s bringing that same approach to NATO. The President has raised it personally with the Secretary General as something that NATO needs to urgently focus on, and all allies, not least some of those who have been the subject of cyber attacks, are bringing this to the top of the agenda.
So I want to make very clear that we are focused on it. It is a real and new threat that can do significant serious damage to our societies and economies in the same way that previously conventional attacks or nuclear attacks threatened our societies and our economies.
I just wanted to be clear that an effort to redefine Article 5 and get all allies to commit to seeing a cyber attack as an armed attack and therefore -- It would require a treaty revision and a ratification in all of the NATO countries.
So what I’m saying is there are things that we can take very seriously and focus on and take action against short of revising the treaty, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not very top priorities.
QUESTION: Another question on the eve of the Lisbon Summit. How far the United States of America would like to go in terms of nuclear disarmament? It’s a quite different picture. France wants to keep all those weapons, although of course they prevent others to get some. Mrs. Merkel too wants to keep a certain nuclear strategy although she doesn’t own any. Then there is that goal to do more in terms of non-proliferation. So what is the line you form?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: At the Tallinn NATO Ministerial Secretary Clinton outlined some principles that guide our thinking on the NATO nuclear issue, and that remains true today and in the run-up to the Summit.
President Obama has made clear that his ultimate goal, back to the Prague speech and the Nuclear Posture Review in the United States, our ultimate goal is a world without nuclear weapons even if we recognize it’s going to take some time to get to that point. I think the President has even said it’s unlikely in his lifetime. But it is our long term goal. And reducing the role and reliance on nuclear weapons is the current American approach.
In the NATO context we have said that we also pursue that goal of reducing the role of and reliance on nuclear weapons, but at the same time we’ve said that so long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will have to remain a nuclear alliance. That really is the approach going into Lisbon.
We’ve also said and Secretary Clinton made clear in her Tallinn principles that so long as NATO is a nuclear alliance, nuclear roles and responsibilities should be widely shared.
QUESTION: That may add kind of a contradiction. They mainly exist inside NATO those nuclear weapons. They do exist beyond a little bit, but --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: More than a little bit. [Laughter]. Just in terms of numbers, it’s more than a little bit outside the NATO alliance.
QUESTION: May I just go back to Deauville? There was one idea which was in the declaration as well. I’d like to get your opinion on that as well. It was designing a European-Russia space accord. Sarkozy in a press conference said that in 10, 15 years time we could have this sort of a common space. Is this a perspective which you see with concern, that the Europeans and the Russians might form some sort of an enhanced free trade zone?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We’d have to hear a little bit more about the definition of European space. But as a general principle, a peaceful and free trading Europe from Portugal to Russia is in the American interest. We’ve never had a problem with that. We want to see Russia integrated. We want to see Russia have good and strong relations with our European partners. We benefit if Europe is a -- Again, we have to define space, but if Europe is at peace and prospering, then Europe’s a partner for the United States in dealing with these global challenges. That’s simply a core American interest and we don’t have a difference with the Europeans about it.
QUESTION: So the U.S. has nothing against a free trade zone from Brest to Vladivostok, but against a secure common security space from Brest to Vladivostok.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’m not sure I understood the question.
QUESTION: There has been these Russian talks about creating a common security space from Vancouver to Vladivostok which is not, as far as I understand, in the United States interest. So does that apply as well to a common, all-European security space?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think concepts like security space would need to be defined more carefully before we really had judgments on exactly what we’re talking about. There are obviously different status for different parts of this. You have NATO allies and Article 5 -- It’s unlikely any time soon to see that exact same status for all of the countries of the OSCE area. So I wouldn’t want to go too far in defining everything as identical.
But just in terms of broad cooperation, non-antagonistic relations, common objectives, then it seems to me obvious that this is in the American interest.
QUESTION: There seems to be a very fixed view in Europe that in general the Obama administration has kind of deprioritized Europe and [inaudible] core commitment [inaudible]. I’m wondering where do you think that comes from and what you are doing to reverse it, or in fact whether you're in fact interested in reversing it.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’m glad you raised that. It is, as you say, an idea that’s out there. I don’t think it’s accurate. As I said at the beginning when the President took office he did so conscious that the United States couldn’t alone solve all of the problems of the world. It needed strong allies. And as it looked for strong allies, nowhere were there better ones, more capable, more in line with our objectives and aims than in Europe. So it has been a priority since the very beginning of the Obama administration to work closely with our European partners on all these global challenges. And you know what? They are.
On Afghanistan we’ve already talked about, over 40,000 European troops fighting alongside Americans and vast amounts of resources and a common strategy which, as I said, the Europeans are putting in more resources this year than the year before.
On Iran, we have the same strategy. This hasn’t always been the case. There have been divisive debates about how to deal with the Iranian challenge in the past.
One of the things the President did was increase engagement with Iran to show Europeans that we were prepared to talk to Iran as they wanted us to do. In turn, as Iran has shown itself unwilling to reciprocate, Europeans have stepped up, joining UN Security Council sanctions, passing complementary EU sanctions, implementing them as part of what is really the same strategy. The United States knows that we can’t succeed unless we have the cooperation of these strong partners, and Europe is critical in that regard.
Dealing with the world economy, in the G20, the G8 and other areas, Europe has been a top partner of the United States and Americans know that and the President knows that. That’s why it is so surprising to us to hear this notion that somehow the administration isn’t interested in Europe or it’s looking elsewhere. I really think that’s inconsistent with the reality. The reality is also that the President took I think six trips to Europe in his first year in office which is more than any President had ever done before. So it’s a little bit hard to argue that the time and attention wasn’t there either. He speaks regularly to his European counterparts. The Secretary of State speaks on a daily basis to different interlocutors in Europe and has taken numerous trips repeatedly all across the continent. And certainly at every level below that our engagement is very intense and probably unprecedented.
So it does raise the question, why do people think it if it’s not true? It may in part have to do with expectations which couldn’t have possibly been met. The enthusiasm for the President, and I say conscious of the fact that it wasn’t too long ago that over my right shoulder there were a certain number of Europeans attending a little speech that he gave here, was so great that maybe the demand was impossible to meet. Even with an intensive, impressive, unprecedented level of engagement, people wanted and expected even more and therefore they’re comparing it to those expectations rather than to any realistic standard.
There have been some columns written in the newspapers about alleged European disappointment or alleged U.S. disinterest which, as I say, is not consistent with the reality.
I think Europeans would understand that it’s appropriate for the United States President also to be very much focused on the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Asia. And maybe there’s also some legacy there where during the Cold War Europe was by far the main strategic priority for the United States and comparisons are made to that period as well.
The German Marshall Fund recently came out with a poll on transatlantic trends which looks at public opinion across the Atlantic on a number of issues. This poll included questioning of 11 EU states. According to their numbers this year, not to pick on Reuters, but the President’s favorable rating in these EU 11 countries this year was 78 percent; last year it was 83 percent. The Reuter’s headline following the publication of the poll was “Europe Cools Toward Obama”. [Laughter].
So the President fell from 83 percent favorable rating to 78, and the impression which sort of fuels your question is that aha, the Europeans are disappointed.
QUESTION: [Inaudible]. [Laughter].
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: That’s a different discussion which we could have some other time. But my point is about expectations. If falling from 83 to 78 is disappointment, then I guess it’s just something we’ll have to live with.
QUESTION: What is concentrating might explain that on economic cooperation? [Laughter]. If you talk to German officials, one reason for the disappointment is that on the TEC for example, the Transatlantic Economic Cooperation, we had the feeling that with the change of administration there are no new ideas coming out of Washington. So that process had actually stalled.
We have the TEC meeting in December. So is your government preparing some new ideas to present to the Europeans?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yes, the administration is focused on the TEC and constantly looking for ways that we can strengthen Transatlantic Economic Cooperation. But what I would say about that is in some ways we are suffering from our success. Transatlantic Economic Cooperation has developed so greatly over the decades and is so comprehensive and goes so deep on both sides that it’s hard to come up with radical new ideas to transform what is already the deepest and widest economic relationship in the world which is relatively highly unregulated and free and unfettered and successful.
So we will always go the extra mile to find ways to further that economic cooperation and we’re doing that right now in the context in which you speak, and obviously we’re facing new challenges and need to constantly think that through.
But this has been a subject of transatlantic economic cooperation for so long that it has already progressed very far.
QUESTION: Chancellor Merkel promoted the idea of a North Atlantic Free Trade Zone. Is there anything that you're doing to explore this possibility? Or is this something at the moment that’s not feasible?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As I say, we’re always open to anything that can enhance our mutual economic prospects and enhancing free trade is usually something that can do that.
Again, I think it’s related to what I was saying. In the areas where free trade can relatively easily be pursued, it already exists. The remaining very small percentage of transatlantic trade that is not entirely free, there’s a good reason for it. So it’s hard to take it that final few steps.
QUESTION: I’d like to get back to the cooperation with Russia. We have a very tense election in Belarus ahead, and I wonder if there is any common Russian-American approach to what these elections, for example if there will be mass manipulation and mass demonstrations.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I can only talk about it from the American side. We have been focused on the question of democracy and human rights in Belarus for some time. It is the absence of respecting democratic rules and human rights has been the source of sanctions that the United States has put on Belarus. And we have long said that their next presidential election would be an opportunity for them to demonstrate change and respect for democratic principles.
We are encouraged that they have invited the OSCE and ODIHR to observe those elections, but that’s not enough. What they observe is going to have to be consistent with international standards and principles, and so far that has yet to be proven the case.
So this is an opportunity for Belarus to demonstrate that it is moving in the direction of respecting human rights and democratic principles. We’re watching it very closely. I think that Belarus, in terms of the Russian angle of your question, wants to demonstrate that it is an independent state and that requires for Belarus enhancing its relationship with the European Union and the United States. They have an opportunity to do so. The European Union is paying attention to Belarus through the Eastern Partnership and bilaterally. I know a lot of Europeans are very much focused on this. And in our view Belarus has the opportunity to make some domestic changes that would help win support from Europeans and Americans for its sovereignty and independence.
QUESTION: May I ask you to elaborate a minute on the WikiLeaks. In your view is there any reputation damage for the United States? And are there any consequences coming up in terms of rule changing or something like that beyond punishing or complaining about the publishers?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’ll leave it to others to determine whether they think it has damaged anybody’s reputation. We deplored it. We believe there are such things as classified information that should stay classified for reasons of national security. In our view it’s a violation of the law and an important principle. And yes, we believe that damage was done, but again I’ll leave it to others to determine whether they think it damaged our reputation.
QUESTION: Will you be talking here about Ukraine? And how worried are you about the situation in Ukraine? Are we just drifting back into a very corrupt and rather authoritarian system that could actually have very serious consequences, not least for our energy security?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’m sure I will speak with German interlocutors about Ukraine. We are very much focused on Ukraine as I know they are. When the new administration was voted into office it said that it wanted to pursue a balanced foreign policy between having a good relationship with Russia but also with Europe and the United States. I think President Yanukovych’s first visit was to Brussels as a sign of that. They also said they were intent on maintaining a strong and vibrant democracy. We want to hold them to both of those standards.
On the foreign policy side we’ve engaged very closely,
President Yanukovych met with President Obama when he came to the Nuclear Security Summit. He made a major step forward on dealing with HEU which was an important step on the non-proliferation front. And we don’t believe there is competition with Russia in terms of Ukraine’s orientation. That’s an independent country, they can have good relations with Russia and they can have good relations with us at the same time.
We’re watching the domestic developments very closely. They have local elections coming up this Sunday. We want to make sure those are conducted in a free and transparent way. As I say, we’ll be watching very closely. They’ve pledged to do so. The opposition is alleging that there are irregularities underway and we’re going to pay very close attention to that.
They have reverted back to the previous constitution which is a way of strengthening the authority of the President. We want to make sure that those authorities are used in an appropriate way so we are watching the situation very carefully. It’s important to the United States and I think our European colleagues, and we will discuss that in Berlin today, that Ukraine remain independent with a balanced foreign policy and democratic.
QUESTION: What worries me most is just the return of mega corruption. And we talk about it in geopolitical terms, but Mr. Yanukovych has very nice suits which seem to have very deep pockets. [Laughter].
Moderator: Next question. [Laughter].
QUESTION: I was interested in hearing the answer to that. [Laughter].
The European Union recently acquired a kind of foreign minister. I’m just wondering whether that has made a difference at all in the way the United States deals with Europe, or whether you anticipate that in the foreseeable future it will make a difference.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’m glad you raised that. Secretary Clinton has a great and active relationship with High Representative Cathy Ashton. They meet regularly, they speak regularly. They spent significant time together in New York, Washington and Brussels over the past two weeks on the full range of issues on which the United States and Europe cooperate.
It’s an opportunity for the United States. We’ve always said we favor a strong Europe. Because we have such common interests it is in our interest to have a strong partner that we can work together with on all of the questions that we have been talking about.
It’s still, of course, a work in progress. The post-Lisbon institutions are just getting underway. I think Baroness Ashton just this week named her top deputies. The European External Action Service is not yet in place. There is a lot more to be done before the EU fully assumes this foreign policy role that you described as a foreign minister. But even short of that, I would say that already this is an important partnership that’s working well and that is in the U.S. interest.
QUESTION: You haven’t mentioned Turkey so far. Are you going to speak with your German interlocutors also about Turkey? Some people in Europe are concerned that the accession negotiations are actually coming to an end more or less because there are just three more chapters which can be opened.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’m sure we will speak about Turkey. I know it’s an important priority for the German government as it is for us. We think that process, that is to say the Turkey-EU process should continue. That it has in the past been in Turkey’s interest. That it has helped promote reform in Turkey. That ultimately a Turkey that meets EU criteria and is in a position to join the EU would be good for Turkey and good for the EU. It’s obviously a European decision. As friends of the Europeans we can have our view and we can express our view. Ultimately Europeans will have to decide that it’s in their interest to have Turkey join. But we do think that the process itself has been important and remains important for Turkey, but at the same time Turkey has to meet the criteria, and no one would ever suggest that it should move forward on the European path until it meets those criteria.
QUESTION: Going back to the German military reform. I know you said earlier that countries don’t shape their militaries in consultation with NATO and the United States. But Germany seems to be planning to reduce rather drastically the size of its army, and at the same time, to make it more deployable. I was wondering from your point of view, do you see that as a helpful direction overall in terms of strengthening the military capability of the alliance? Or are you more worried by the sheer reduction in numbers that’s being planned?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Reducing size and making more deployable is a process that has gone on for I would say all members of the alliance over time and is appropriate in what is actually still a continuing post-Cold War adaptation.
AS for specific requirements and numbers, I won’t express a view and it would require study to really figure out what the right sizes are for different NATO allies. But as a matter of principle, developing a leaner, meaner and more deployable armed force is something that most NATO allies have undertaken, and for good reason.
QUESTION: Isn’t it exactly the same thing that the Americans have done with the forces in Germany, moved the heavy divisions back to the U.S., and transformed to these more deployable Stryker brigades.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As I say, we’ve all been undertaking that process since the Cold War. Even though it’s been more than 20 years, the process isn’t yet complete. Every country’s going to have to find the right balance, but the balance continues to be towards the need for more flexibility and deployability.
Thank you, it’s nice to see you all.