Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Vilnius, Lithuania
January 12, 2012

QUESTION: Do you think that the financial crisis in Europe is a security threat? And what particular problems does this cause to NATO?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Let me actually start by saying how pleased I am to be back in Lithuania. Lithuania is a great partner of the United States, a great NATO partner, and we appreciate all it’s been doing on the international stage, most recently hosting the OSCE Ministerial where Secretary Clinton was proud to come, and hosting the Community of Democracies meeting. So it’s great for me to have a chance to be here and talk with Lithuanian counterparts.

The question of the economic crisis obviously looms large for Europe and the United States. We in America have a profound interest in Europe’s economic success. It’s our biggest trade and investment partner, so we’re obviously following it closely, but we are confident that European leaders understand the urgency of the situation and have the means to deal with it.

QUESTION: Don’t you think it will cause the states to lower the defense budget and this will be a serious problem for NATO?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: There’s no doubt that the United States is reducing its defense budget, as are a number of European countries. That is simply a reality. I think one of the things that means is that we are going to have to find ways to spend more efficiently. One of the things that means is we need to do it more collectively within NATO. As you know, the United States will be hosting the next NATO Summit in Chicago in May. One of our big priorities for that summit are initiatives that the NATO Secretary General calls smart defense which will allow us to pool our resources and spend scarce defense dollars and euros more efficiently. So we have some programs in mind to do that. One of them, by the way, supports the Baltic air policing which is a good example of how some allies with certain capabilities can help others who may not have the same capabilities.

QUESTION: Do you think this air policing mission should be prolongated?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The United States thinks it should be extended to 2018 and beyond. We’ve extended it a couple of times already. Our view is that this is a good example of how allies can help each other. Those with advanced fighter planes can help ensure protection of Baltic air space and Baltic countries can contribute in other ways as Lithuania does in Afghanistan and as we would expect it to do in other fields.

So we support that. Obviously it’s something that we’ll have to talk about with all of the allies, and I should also say that I think allies will expect a greater Baltic contribution in terms of host nation support. So we’ll be looking to Lithuania and others to make their contributions as well.

QUESTION: Maybe it should be a permanent mission, the air policing.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, we definitely are for extending it. Permanent in a fast-changing world beyond 2018, who knows exactly what will be needed? So I think the right thing to do is to extend it and agree that we would expect to continue to extend it regularly. Obviously it’s something we would review periodically to make sure that it’s working effectively and that it should be extended.

QUESTION: What are the particular examples that you mention about extending?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Another program that we’re looking at is called Alliance Ground Surveillance which is a system of drones for intelligence gathering. The idea has been out there for some time and the Alliance has failed to agree on this, but we’re going to make a strong push because the idea would be certain procuring nations within NATO would buy some unmanned aerial vehicles that would be able to gather intelligence and do surveillance. We saw in Libya this was absolutely critical to the types of operations we might need, but it’s also critical for Europe and Article 5.

So rather than expecting every single member of NATO to buy its own drones, which is simply unrealistic in today’s budgetary world, we would come together, buy a small number of them that could be put to use for the whole Alliance, ask allies to contribute to common funding for the infrastructure and for the satellite bandwidth, and then every member of NATO would be able to benefit, even if it’s an operation that only some participated in, so long as the rest of the Alliance supported it. Everyone would benefit from advanced 21st Century capabilities while pooling our assets. That’s just like Baltic air policing, a good, sensible idea of how to spend money.

It’s similar to the AWACS program that NATO does have, common funding, a small number of AWACS, everybody benefits.

QUESTION: What are the decisions you expect from the Chicago Summit apart from the smart defense?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The agenda hasn’t been completely finalized. We obviously need to talk about it with our partners. But I think you can be sure in addition to smart defense that there will be a focus on Afghanistan, a big mission for the Alliance. At the Lisbon Summit we agreed together to transition to a lead role for Afghan security after 2014. We agreed that in the mean time we would stay the course and maintain our presence. So I think at Chicago we’ll want to get allies to recommit to this Lisbon agreed goal and to talk about how we will gradually move from a combat role to an advise and assist role and then make a commitment to Afghanistan after 2014.

We’ve invested nearly a decade and many lives and dollars in this operation and we have a chance to make it a real success for NATO and for our own interests. So Afghanistan will certainly be high on the list.

We will also want to look at our partnership relationships. One of the things that the Libya operation showed is that NATO is getting better at working with non-NATO allies, even in military operations.

QUESTION: President Barack Obama is coming to an end. How would you describe the policy in Europe? What are the main successes and un-successes.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First, don’t say farewell to President Obama just yet. We still have a year of the first term so we’re not yet looking beyond this administration. There is still a lot we want to get done, but I think there’s already a lot that we have gotten done.

One of the things the President emphasized when he first came into office was the need for strong partnerships to help us deal with a really challenging world. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, nuclear weapons. And his view is that, when we looked for those strong partners, it was mainly in Europe that we were going to find them. I think we can be quite proud of what we’ve achieved in three years in terms of that global partnership. We’re working very effectively with Europeans on these global challenges. As I say, from Afghanistan where there are 40,000 non-American troops fighting alongside Americans, our common policies on Iran, what we recently did in Libya, and our solidarity within Europe on Article 5 and NATO. So I think we’ve really enhanced this partnership. It was one of the President’s key goals. And we’ll look to continue to do so in the final year of his term.

QUESTION: What about the relationship with Russia? Some experts openly say that the reset policy was a failure.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think we can also be quite proud of what we accomplished in the relationship with Russia. It was a very pragmatic view of the President when he took office. Inheriting a relationship after the Russian war with Georgia that was very bad for the United States, and the President said look, we have some common interests with Russia in non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, economic cooperation. Let’s see if we can work on those relationships, achieve concrete things in our interest, while being clear that we’re not going to sacrifice our principles, our alliance in Europe. We’ve done that and we’ve managed to get a lot done with the Russians. A new START agreement, a 123 Nuclear Energy Agreement, agreement on transit to Afghanistan, some Russian cooperation on Iran and the decision not to sell S-300 air defense systems to Iran, Russian membership in the WTO which is not a gift to Russia. It’s a way of helping our own economy and also binding Russia in to a rules-based system.

So we’ve accomplished all of that, but let me just be clear, we are certain that we’ve done it without compromising important principles like the need for more democracy and human rights for Russia, like Georgia sovereignty and territorial integrity, [inaudible].

Following on the OSCE [inaudible] reports, [inaudible] made clear that the Russian parliamentary elections had real irregularities and she underscored that Russians have the right to choose their leaders in a free, fair and transparent way. The fact that a number of Russians, especially in the younger generation, have chosen to make that demand clear is a positive thing.

We should note that we welcome the Russian authorities’ allowance of these protests to go ahead. Again, they’re the biggest protests for democracy [inaudible] Soviet Union. We support the right of people to express their views.

I don’t know what the future holds, but it’s a positive thing to see people insisting on transparent democracy.

QUESTION: There is lots of speculation these days about the possible military conflict between the United States and Iran. Do you think it’s a real possibility?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I can tell you that our emphasis is on the diplomacy. It’s pretty straightforward. We’ve made clear that Iran has obligations to the international community. There are a series of UN Security Council Resolutions that call on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and we have expressed our willingness to use diplomacy to deal with these issues.

We support what our High Representative Cathy Ashton is doing. She’s written to Iran and said we’ll sit down without conditions and talk about this. And the Iranians haven’t given a serious response. Their response has instead been to enrich uranium to 20 percent, to dig underground bunkers for their enrichment program, as well as other non-nuclear-related challenges to international norms. So we’re doing all we can to emphasize the diplomatic front. We remain ready to pursue that course but we’ve made clear that if Iran chooses to defy the international community there are consequences. What we’re focused on is not using military force but economic pressures, targeted sanctions that are increasing, and we’re encouraged to hear that the European Union is looking at an oil embargo on Iran and we are calling on other countries to cease doing financial business with Iran and they are clearly feeling the pressure.

QUESTION: Thank you very much and I hope to see you in Lithuania once again.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It’s my pleasure. It’s great to be here.

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[This is a mobile copy of Interview With Bernardas Gailius of LTV]