U.S. General on NATO Transformation, Ukraine

Washington Foreign Press Center
Washington, D.C.
July 15, 2014





MODERATOR: Hello, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today we have Lieutenant General Frederick Hodges, commanding general of the NATO LANDCOM component. He is here to deliver a NATO Allied Land Component operational update briefing. Without further ado, here is the general. (Applause.)

LTG HODGES: Thanks, (inaudible). Well, first of all, thanks to all of you for coming in today and giving me the opportunity to talk to you briefly about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO, and specifically Allied Land Command, the only land command for the alliance – to give you a quick update on where we are in implementing NATO’s transformation, which was agreed on at the Lisbon summit. And I’m also anxious to talk to you briefly about what Russia is doing in the Ukraine and what NATO – how NATO views that and what the alliance is doing to assure our allies, as well as deter future adversarial actions.

I’d be happy to take the questions that you might have about the alliance. Also, as an American officer – I’m a NATO commander, but I’m serving in NATO in that capacity, and I’d be happy to talk about why it’s important for the United States to remain engaged and provide leadership to the alliance. So that is a range of things that I’m happy to talk about, and I look forward to your questions.

I think it’s important to remember that our alliance is 65 years old. It’s evolved as conditions have changed from what it first was created to do after the end of World War II to now. It’s grown to 28 nations. It’s the most successful alliance in the history of the world. When you think of its membership, nations that fought each other for centuries have not fought each other for the last 65 years. It’s certainly not perfect. We have many things to continue working on so that the alliance remains able to live up to its Article V collective security obligations, but we are continuing to do that, and there’s plenty of evidence that I’d be happy to talk about.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the alliance works hard at remaining relevant as the environment changes. The Lisbon summit was all about making sure that the alliance was going to be capable for life after ISAF. After the end of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, what did NATO need to be able to do? And it obviously needed to be sustainable. So at Lisbon, the 28 nations agreed to reduce the size of the command structure by a half, and about one-third in terms of the number of positions – so a big cost savings to the nations. The end result is a command structure that includes just one land command – that’s us; we’re based in Izmir, Turkey – one air command that’s in Ramstein, Germany; a maritime command that’s in Northwood, the UK; and then the two joint force commands, of course, in Brunssum and Naples. We all report to the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, SACEUR General Breedlove.

It’s a much flatter, much smaller NATO command structure, which then means that the land forces of the alliance have to be more capable. And that’s why our headquarters was created: to ensure that the land forces of the alliance and the 20 member – partner nations, excuse me – can be more effective and interoperable. So that’s the reason for our headquarters, is to help make sure land forces of the alliance and our partners are effective and interoperable. We’re at a level of effectiveness and interoperability now better than it’s ever been in the last 65 years because of what we’ve been doing together in Afghanistan. Our headquarters has to make sure we don’t lose that as we come out of Afghanistan.

With respect to Russia and Ukraine, Russia’s clearly acting like an adversary. Their actions by the illegal annexation of Crimea and the destabilizing activities that they’re conducting on the – off the eastern end of Ukraine clearly are counter to what we all care about. I think there’s – you’ve heard from the Secretary General and from the SACEUR [GEN Breedlove] irrefutable evidence of what Russia is doing to support the pro-separatists in eastern Ukraine. What our headquarters is doing in regards to this is, of course, assisting in the implementation of the assurance measures that the alliance agreed to to make sure that those nations who are closest to potential threats – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria; those nations – that we’re doing things to ensure – to assure them that the rest of the alliance will live up to its Article V obligation. There is no doubt about that, no; we certainly will.

I’ll stop there and look forward to your questions.

MODERATOR: As we move to the Q&A portion of the event, please state your name and publication for the transcript, and wait for the microphone, which could be coming from other side. Please go ahead and ask a question.

QUESTION: Hi. I am Ani Sandu, U.S. correspondent for the Romanian Public Radio, and I would have two questions. First of all, considering Russia’s actions in Ukraine, what kind of measures did you take to prepare in case an Article V intervention is called upon? And second, some countries in Eastern Europe have asked for permanent bases on their territory. Would you favor the establishing of such a base in Romania or Poland?

LTG HODGES: Well, let me take the first one first. Of course, the alliance has increased the amount of aircraft that are involved in the air policing operations up in the Baltics. And they’ve also – we have increased the number of aircraft who are doing air policing over the Black Sea and in Eastern Europe. There are maritime operations, maritime exercises in the Black Sea, with which you’ll be familiar – Operation Breeze, the largest number of NATO ships inside the Black Sea in quite some time, doing an exercise off the coast of Romania and Bulgaria, all within the normal of what’s accepted in the Black Sea and also in accordance with the Montreux Convention. But we’re doing these things to increase readiness and to – again, to assure the allies that are closest to that.

The part that is most relevant to our headquarters is the use of exercises to improve interoperability and to demonstrate the capability of the alliance, that we will, in fact, be there should Romania or any other country in that area ever be attacked or be threatened.

The – I know in Romania the presence of Russian soldiers in Moldova, which have been there for quite some time and the relationship between Moldova and Romania is important. We watch that very closely, but Romania has a fantastic training area at a place called Cincu that American forces go to train there. We anticipate British forces coming there in the fall also to participate in exercises with Romanian forces. The level of interoperability with Romanians is quite high, actually, because of the significant contribution that Romania has made in Afghanistan.

I was just recently in Bucharest and at Cincu and also at Constanta at the other base up there, what’s known as MK. So there is a strong cooperation between Romania and the rest of the alliance, good training facilities, and I would anticipate you would see an increase in training land forces as well as the other forces inside Romania and Hungary and Bulgaria over the next several months.

So that’s the most important thing, I think, from a land perspective, is making sure that the land forces of the alliance are able to work together.

I don’t think – I didn’t answer the second part. Would you say that second part again?

QUESTION: So the second part was some countries in Eastern Europe, including Romania, have asked for permanent bases on their territory. So would you favor the establishing of such a base in Romania or Poland? And how long would it take? If the decision is made, how long would it take for such a base to be established?

LTG HODGES: Well, I think the infrastructure that I alluded to was done with U.S. assistance, helping Romanians develop their own infrastructure, their own capability, so there is a significant amount of infrastructure available to do good training. And also the logistics base and airfield there near Constanta is an important hub for U.S. forces coming out of Afghanistan working their way back. That’s where they go through.

So should it be required, there is high-quality Romanian infrastructure that could be used to support increased training exercises. I think that there’s an internal decision – or national decisions that would have to be made by those eastern European nations. Do they really want to have other forces living there? I’m not sure that that’s – that we know the answer to that yet, or that it’s necessary. What I think is more important is that there is no doubt that the other members of the alliance will be there should Romania be threatened.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for your presence here and for answering our questions. Marcus Pindur, German National Public Radio. My first question is: Does NATO have any kind of role in training or assisting the Ukrainian military forces? And could you elaborate – if so, could you elaborate on that? And secondly, you mentioned – actually, it was central to what you said – interoperability was very important and was better than ever. Could you elaborate on that and name a few elements of interoperability that could – have improved and that could further be improved maybe?

LTG HODGES: Okay. No, I’d be glad to. First, congratulations to Germany – (laughter) – (in German). I’m very proud of the United States. I think we stayed closer to you than Brazil did, so we’re very proud of that. But, congratulations.

With Ukraine, there – training and operations with Ukrainian forces has actually been going on for quite some time. We had Ukrainian soldiers that were part of the operations in Iraq. They were under Multinational Division Center South. So we’ve been working the Ukrainians for at least the last 10 or 11 years there, beginning in Iraq. We had Ukrainian personnel operating in Afghanistan. And there’s also – there’s been an exercise series. It’s a multinational exercise co-hosted by Ukraine and the United States called Rapid Trident. It takes place each year in Lviv. So – in fact, I was there last year watching the exercise, and it’s scheduled again this year to take place in mid-September. So this is an exercise that goes on routinely. I don’t want to oversell it in terms of the interoperability as perfect yet, but the purpose of these exercises is to try and make sure we retain the professionalism, the capabilities of Ukrainian armed forces, an important PFP, Partnership for Peace, nation in association with the alliance to assist in the development of their armed forces.

And when you talk about interoperability, I think there are two pillars of interoperability. The first pillar has to do with common standards and procedures, and NATO has a fairly well-documented and developed set of standards for how to do things – procedures in headquarters, operations, almost everything you can imagine, that already exists. So everybody’s got to be able to follow those standards, which requires knowing what they are, and practicing and training.

The second pillar of interoperability, I believe, is communications. In NATO-speak, we would say CIS, Communications and Information Systems. All of your computers, your battle command systems, the screens that track information, all this stuff has got to be interoperable.

The standards part I think we’re actually in pretty good shape because of the operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, in the Balkans. It’s generally well-known the – frankly, the European members of the alliance know the standards better than the Americans do. So we’re pretty good there.

The bigger challenge is on CIS, the Communications and Information Systems, because each nation is going to protect its own defense industry, so the nations will buy different systems. And really that’s okay. I don’t care what the label is on the box, whether it’s Telos, Finmeccanica, Raytheon, whatever. What I care about is do the electrons – does the information, the digits, do they match up?

So when you have an Estonian battalion under an American brigade that’s under a German division that’s under a French corps, can they communicate? That’s hard. Technically it’s not hard. You can probably get three teenagers together and they can figure out the technical part. It’s the authorities and policies that need to be addressed to allow that. So we’ve got a little bit of a mismatch between strategic vision and expectations on interoperability and at the lower level actual implementing policies because people are worried about information sharing, who has access to databases and so on. So we’ve got some work to do there.

MODERATOR: Okay, next question.

QUESTION: Hello, my name is Jan Schmitz (ph). I work for Bader Zeitung and five other German newspapers. My question is about Germany, the first one at least. I have two.

Last week, the former vice chairman on the National Intelligence Council Mark Lowenthal was on the PBS NewsHour and he said, and I quote here, “In the view of a lot of senior American officials, they — ” meaning the Germans “– are not alliance worthy.” And he also – that was his translation of “Bündnisfähigkeit”. Is that a feeling that you have encountered in the military community as well? And either way, I think it should affect either your cooperation with the Germans or with the intelligence community in the U.S. That will be my first question.

And the second one on a more broader note is: There is a guideline for the financial commitment that each country should make, and most European countries don’t meet it. Germany is lagging far behind, I think. Is that – how big of a topic is that within your daily operations? Thank you.

LTG HODGES: Okay, thanks. First I’ve never heard anybody ever even hint or suggest or opine that somehow Germany is not alliance-worthy. That’s a ridiculous assertion. They’ve been an essential, very strong member of the alliance for a long time, the third-largest troop-contributing nation in Afghanistan, up in RC North with 5,000 soldiers at the peak, which dwarfed the input of a lot of others.

The quality of officers and noncommissioned officers that Germany provides in my headquarters as well as in other parts of the command structure, they’re as good as anybody there is – very professional, obviously very good equipment. Germany has improved its training facilities there in Germany both in Wildflecken and at – in south of Berlin, which is a new maneuver training center modeled after the American one, which is at Hohenfels. I mean, so Germany has invested in those facilities, and the quality of people that they provide to the alliance from German four-star generals like General Hans-Lothar Domrose, the commander of Joint Force Command Brunssum, or General Werner Freers, the chief of staff at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe), who’s my classmate from the War College, by the way, these are exceptional officers.

Should Germany do more? Do I wish they would do more? Absolutely. You’ve got that sort of quality; I would like to see more capacity and I would also like to see Germany be more involved in international exercises to what I see them doing inside Germany and German training areas, I’d like to see them be more involved in the – in those. But those are internal decisions. But obviously, the reason I’d want to see it is because of the quality that they bring. And my sense is that they’re moving in that direction now.

The 2 percent standard for percentage of GDP, I think that’s a good standard, it’s a reasonable standard, and more nations ought to get a whole lot closer to it. Having said that, I think it is important to put in context that there are other things about being an ally that are also very important. Access for the United States – the decision to reduce its footprint overseas, particularly in Europe, significant reduction, is based on a premise that the U.S. will have access to airfields, ports, capabilities in Europe to be able to project power. We cannot take for granted that Germany or Italy or Spain or Turkey will allow U.S. forces just to kind of move in and out of there, or that great base in Romania. So the granting of access – overflight, things like that, sharing of information and intelligence – those are very, very important parts of the alliance.

To be candid, I think that a nation that’s as economically strong as Germany has a leadership obligation. I think that they – clearly, what Germany has done – let me restate it. Germany, Italy, and others have significantly strong ties to Russia, economic ties that go way back – in fact, every nation in the alliance, including my own nation, has economic – has business with Russia, some much more than others. Despite that, all 28 nations have continued to stick together on the implementation of assurance measures, on the implementation of leverage sanctions, on advisers, friends, leaders in Russia.

So there are other parts about being a good ally in addition to “Are you spending enough?” And frankly, I would – I’m just as concerned about what are you spending it on versus just the act of spending – communications systems that are interoperable, modernizing aircraft, having logistical capability – those kind of things, how you spend the money is very important.


QUESTION: To follow up with my German colleague, how do you see the role of France in – oh, I’m sorry, Claude Porsella from Radio France Internationale. How do you see the role of France since France has rejoined the military command? As you know, France is decreasing its military budget, so that’s not going to be very helpful as far as the 2 percent is concerned. But usually speaking, what France role is playing in NATO now?


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

LTG HODGES: Sure. Since France re-entered the integrated command structure, they’re back in a very serious way. Of course, General Palomeros is the commander of strategic Allied Command Transformation, which is headquartered in Virginia, so he’s one of the two four-star strategic commanders – General Breedlove, of course, at SHAPE is his counterpart. So you’ve got an extremely high-ranking position there, and then we’ve got – the vice chief of staff at SHAPE is a three-star, Lieutenant General Philippe Stoltz, a French general officer and an extremely influential and important position. In fact, he’s probably the one person at SHAPE that I interact with the most. He’s our biggest champion there, understands and appreciates the importance of land power as part of what the alliance overall does.

So – and then you’ve got senior French officers throughout all the other headquarters. France is the third largest contributor in my headquarters; 10 percent of the headquarters are French positions. So that’s a commitment by France to be back in the alliance, and my senior French officer is my chief of plans – exceptionally talented officer, and he does one of the most important functions that we have in the headquarters.

So at the individual level, those are some examples of where France is fully engaged in what’s going on. We have all been impressed with how French forces operated in Mali, the way they’ve done that, and also they didn’t do that alone. You had a coalition, including U.S., Canada, other nations that supported their operations there that I think are a very positive sign.

France contributes in other ways that are very important. In fact, today, the land component of the NATO Response Force is the French Rapid Reaction Corps that’s based in Lille. So it’s one of the nine corps headquarters that make up what’s known as the NATO force structure. It’s a multinational headquarters, but the framework nation is France. General – Lieutenant General Eric Margail is the commander, he’s been there about a year. So if NATO were to use the NATO Response Force, the NRF, then the lead headquarters on the land would be the French-based French Rapid Reaction Corps. That’s a very important contribution.

The – so in terms of being an important, viable member of the alliance, of course I’d like to see them continue to maintain capacity to help deal with all the different requirements. But in terms of quality, they’re as good as anybody else in the alliance.

MODERATOR: Are there any other questions?

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Anne Walters. I’m with the German press agency DPA (Deutsche Presse Agentur. As the mission in Afghanistan winds down, how would you say that the role of NATO should continue? How would you convince people in the member countries of the ongoing importance of NATO as the ISAF mission winds down?

LTG HODGES: Importance of NATO with regards to Afghanistan? Well, I think the nations have already shown how important that they value this, because there’s no shortage of people volunteering to or nations stepping up to fulfil requirements for the RSM, Resolute Support Mission, which is the follow-on. So I think that – you think of the challenges associated with Afghanistan, that’s impressive to me that so many nations continue to stay willing to invest and do their part all the way up to the end. Certainly, I think we’re all happy and proud to see what Secretary Kerry has done and along with other nations helping to get the two candidates to agree to an outcome. But that – and that was very important. Nations were waiting to see that, and I think the unity, the nation sticking together on that, was an important part of Secretary Kerry being able to help them achieve that outcome.

So I think the nations recognize the transition as the right transition, the training and preparation that’s being done, the leadership that’s being put into place to make that transition from ISAF to Resolute Support. Very professional, solid, and I don’t think that – I don’t think you’re going to see NATO members slipping away from that prematurely.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Lauri Tankler with the Estonian Public Broadcasting. I just want to follow up the French question about the military and the NATO. How do you as an officer and as a military leader – how do you see the French Government decision to sell the Mistral warships to Russia and to train the Russian troops there?

LTG HODGES: Well, of course that’s a – each nation in an alliance, each nation can make the decisions – they can make sovereign decisions. To the average person on the outside, it’s a little bit difficult to understand that. But I saw where the French minister of defense yesterday talked about within the EU that there are different levels of measures that could be taken as part of the sanctions regime and that so far that the EU had not yet reached that third level, which would’ve obligated France not to sell, to complete the sale of those ships to Russia. So I think – and I’m certainly not the expert on this, but it seems to me that inside France they’re looking at EU rules for sanctions, that EU was not there yet. And so they will continue down along that path.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’d like to come back to Ukraine once more. You’ve mentioned the transformation that NATO is in and the different strategic concept. And I was just wondering, I think one of the reasons for that was obviously, like, the budget constraints. Another one was the realization that adversaries might be different in the future than they used to be. But now with the Ukraine crisis and the realization that Russia is back as an adversary in a way, at least, I was just wondering: Did that cause any rethinking on NATO’s part? Have there been any changes made to the new strategy, or will you just proceed as you planned?

LTG HODGES: Well, I think the – there’s a couple of ways to look at this. First of all, I think a lot of people who have watched Russia over the years are seeing that Russia is what we always thought they were, that this notion that somehow they could be this wonderful partner, like some other European country, was probably not well founded. Absolutely we need to maintain a cooperative relationship with Russia; all the nations do for not just economic reasons or humanitarian reasons, but it’s an extremely important country with a powerful military and potentially powerful economy. So there’s a hundred good reasons to have a good relationship with the Russians, not just to prevent conflict from breaking out.

But the fact is, regardless of what type of government it was, whether it was Czarist Russia, communist Russia, post-Soviet era, and now under President Putin, use of force – their own interpretation of a lot of the legal instruments that are out there in international domain, using those things, information to achieve what it is that they want to achieve. So I think what’s happened in the last few months has kind of reminded people of that.

Now, that doesn’t mean that everybody’s rushing to re-establish armaments industries and start rearming, necessarily. In fact, very few nations have indicated that they’re going to increase defense spending, but we will – we are going to do one thing that the Secretary General and the SACEUR said that we’re going to do even before this started in the life after ISAF is that you’re going to see more robust exercises, because only through exercising can you retain interoperability, and by exercising in those eastern European nations can you demonstrate the assurance and capability that we can get there and that we will be there. And then, frankly, I think that’s also – by demonstrating that capability, that’s – it has a deterrent effect that’s important.

I think that Russia believes that they probably have seven or eight weeks to do something. I don’t mean seven weeks from today. I mean in general, their planning horizon, I think they probably think they have seven or eight weeks to do something before the alliance could actually respond to it. And they don’t act like a chess player, they act like a checkers player. And they see an opportunity, they’ll do it. I think the – there’s a notion of creeping normalcy, which means that they do something, and if the West doesn’t react to it, that that becomes the new norm. I mean, it clearly is the policy of the nations of NATO that Crimea belongs to Ukraine. But candidly, you don’t hear a lot of discussion about how we’re going – what we’re going to do to help restore it to Ukraine. So it’s almost like the boundary has been changed, and now territorial waters in the Black Sea potentially are changed.

Will that be recognized by international courts, shipping, insurance? All those kinds of things is [are] yet to be seen. I hope not, because Crimea is sovereign territory of Ukraine and it’ll be a political solution to restore that.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? On the Ukraine, I asked this – the question before and you said that there’s a history of interoperation with the Ukrainian military. Did anything change from the beginning of that crisis in April until now? I mean, is there new input from NATO into the Ukrainian training forces or is there new hardware that is being sent to the Ukraine? Is there anything that has changed since April?

LTG HODGES: I am personally not aware of specific things that have been provided by any nation. What I have seen is a determination to continue with the Rapid Trident exercise in September, which I think is important. I think we’ve had a couple nations that want to join the exercise that maybe weren’t on it before.

Now, this is not a gigantic exercise. It’s just a very few thousand soldiers would be involved. Obviously, it – I think it sends a powerful signal if we do it. But at the end of the day, of course, Ukraine, I mean, they’re the host, and they are very busy right now. The exercise was originally going to be in August, and they – excuse me, in July – and they asked to shift it to September, because to do this exercise and conduct the operations that they were doing at the time would not have been feasible.

I hope that we’re able to conduct this exercise in September because we want to see their – continue to help them improve their capability, which is something we would be doing regardless of whether or not Russia had ever gone into Crimea. This is a normal part of the very robust partnership program that the alliance has with 20-something different nations to help partner nations to continue to improve their capability.

As I mentioned, Ukraine has been part of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, other places. So we need them – again, separate from whether or not Russia ever went into Crimea, we need them to be able to operate inside multinational formations because they’re so dependable about going to places to do stability operations or otherwise.

MODERATOR: Are there any further questions? If there are no more questions, this event is now concluded. Thank you all for coming.


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