Remarks to Students from the Center for European Security's Winter Academy

Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Moscow, Russia
February 17, 2012

As prepared

I am delighted to be meeting with students from the European Winter Academy, which provides an important forum for a new generation of security experts to engage in serious discussions about NATO’s role in a rapidly changing world. I have spent today exchanging views with policy-makers, business leaders, and civil society organizations on a wide range of issues. I welcome the opportunity to conclude my short visit to Moscow by engaging with young thinkers and leaders from across Russia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, Caucasus and the wider region. I appreciate your willingness to give up a Friday night for this meeting and look forward to hearing your perspectives on NATO, the U.S.-Russia relationship, and the foreign policy challenges facing us all.

Three years into the ‘reset’ in relations between the United States and Russia, it is clear that we have made considerable progress together in numerous areas. We put in place the New START Treaty; completed the 123 Agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation; deepened our cooperation on Afghanistan; worked closely on nonproliferation issues, especially on Iran and North Korea; and strengthened our partnerships on counternarcotics and counterterrorism. We look forward to Russia’s accession later this year to the World Trade Organization, which we believe is good for the United States, good for Russia, and good for the WTO. We are engaged in discussions with Congress about Russia’s graduation from Jackson-Vanik.

The U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission continues to intensify ties between our societies as well as our governments, addressing issues ranging from energy efficiency and health to youth and sports exchanges. The working groups on civil society and rule of law met last week in Washington, D.C.; the working group on innovation is scheduled to meet later this month in Silicon Valley. We have also finalized an agreement on visas that should make it easier for Americans and Russians to visit and do business in each other’s country, which is of particular importance to an increasingly mobile and outward looking younger generation.

Our relationship has been premised on the idea that we should work together toward common goals in a spirit of mutual respect. The long list of achievements that I just cited clearly demonstrates our shared interests in addressing shared security and economic challenges. We also believe that it is important to be frank about our differences. In December, the United States expressed concerns about the Duma elections based on reports from both Russian and international observers. As Secretary Clinton said in Bonn, “The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted. And that means they deserve free, fair, transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them. And we believe that that’s in the best interests of Russia and we’re going to continue to speak out about it.” We also welcomed the fact that authorities have since allowed Russian citizens to express their views openly in peaceful rallies.

I would like to focus my opening comments tonight on how the United States views the current European security architecture, as well as how we would like to cooperate further with Russia on areas of common concern. In particular, I will address NATO – including the upcoming summit, Afghanistan, and missile defense – as well as the challenges we’re facing now in Iran and Syria. I understand that you have been exploring these topics as part of the Academy this week, so I look forward to hearing your views and having a good discussion.

As you know, President Obama will be hosting the NATO Summit in Chicago this May. This meeting enables the Alliance to highlight the critical role that it continues to play. NATO has a proven track record of providing greater stability within Europe, particularly among its new members. In addition, NATO’s ongoing missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and off the horn of Africa demonstrate its significant contributions to global security.

The summit’s overarching goal is to build on decisions reached in Lisbon in 2010; it will, in other words, be an “implementation summit” where leaders will seek to further develop the ideas laid out in the new Strategic Concept. This will be accomplished primarily through the summit’s three main themes: Afghanistan, capabilities and partnerships.

  • Afghanistan: On Afghanistan, leaders will further define the implementation of the transition process, including a milestone in 2013 when ISAF’s main effort will have shifted from combat to advising and assisting the Afghans. The Summit also provides an opportunity for Allies, partners and the international community to commit to sustain the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) when ISAF’s handover is complete in 2014. In addition, we plan to further define NATO’s post-2014 role in Afghanistan.
  • Capabilities: We are hoping to announce the completion of certain Lisbon Capability Commitments, including an interim missile defense capability to help protect the Alliance and provide another tangible expression of NATO’s core mission of collective defense. We are also working on broader NATO capability development through collaborative initiatives that we like to call “Smart Defense”.
  • Partnerships: The new Strategic Concept called for broadening and deepening NATO’s partnerships around the world. In Chicago, the Alliance wishes to emphasize the timeliness and importance of this policy by highlighting the crucial role that partners have played in NATO operations, most recently in Libya. Going forward, we will continue to strengthen our partnerships across the globe on a wide array of issues.

In November 2010, President Medvedev came to Lisbon for the NATO Russia Council Summit, which he described as a “historic” new start in relations between Russia and the Alliance. The NRC has proven to be an effective forum for addressing a range of topics across a broad spectrum of shared security interests, including issues such as defense transparency, counter-piracy, and specific capacity building projects like the helicopter maintenance trust fund for the Afghan National Security Forces. We welcome ways in which our work in these and other areas could facilitate substantive discussions in Chicago.

As I mentioned, Afghanistan will be one of the main agenda items at the Chicago summit. Let me say a few more words about how we see the upcoming transition as well as Russia’s important role in supporting this process. At the Lisbon Summit in 2010, NATO outlined a roadmap for transition of lead security responsibility to the Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. The transition is already underway; by the end of 2014, the ANSF will be fully responsible for security throughout the country. The ANSF is currently responsible for protecting roughly half of Afghanistan’s population and will continue to take on increased responsibility for national security as the transition progresses.

As the final tranche of transition begins in mid-2013, Afghan Security Forces will assume the lead throughout Afghanistan. During this time, the role of ISAF forces will evolve from their current lead combat role to a support role through training, advising, and assisting the Afghans. Throughout this entire transition process until the end of 2014, ISAF will remain fully combat ready and engage in combat as required. This shift in our force presence and role during the transition period will occur in close consultation and coordination among Allies, partners within ISAF, and the Afghan authorities. As an Alliance, we are fully committed to the Lisbon framework and executing it according to the principle of “in together, out together”.

Russia has become a critical partner on efforts to promote security and stability in Afghanistan. Under our bilateral air transit agreement, more than 1,700 flights carrying over 280,000 troops had crossed Russian air space en route to Afghanistan by the end of 2011. In addition, more than 37,000 containers of material have transited Russia overland under a NATO-Russia ground transit arrangement. The success of these transit agreements suggests that Russia recognizes its own security interests are linked to the success of ISAF’s current operations and the upcoming transition to Afghan-led security efforts.

We also are cooperating with Russia on counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan and the wider region. Through the NATO-Russia Council Counternarcotics Program, over 1,800 law enforcement officers from Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan have received training at centers in Russia, Turkey, and in their own countries. Russia provides trainers for this program and provides space at its Domodedovo and St. Petersburg training facilities. In recognition of the importance of this cooperation, Secretary Clinton announced last December that the U.S. will double our financial and training support to this program in 2012 to $500,000.

We appreciate Russia’s pledge of $3.5 million to the NATO-Russia Council Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund, which will help build the capacity of the Afghan forces. The technical expertise and training that Russia has pledged will fill a critical need in building the capacity of the ANSF to keep their fleet of Russian-built helicopters operational and ready to support Afghan-led security operations. We welcome Russia’s contribution to our shared commitment to building peace and security by empowering our Afghan partners.

Let me turn now to another priority within the NATO context, which is missile defense. At the Lisbon Summit, the Alliance recognized that Europe needs to defend against the growing threat from the proliferation of ballistic missiles and decided to pursue a NATO missile defense capability. At the Chicago summit we expect to declare the achievement of an “interim” capability, which is an important milestone that demonstrates continued support for this Lisbon commitment. The United States has made substantial progress in implementing missile defense in Europe. We remain on schedule to deploy new capabilities announced last year -- including missile defense assets in Poland, Romania, and Turkey, as well as home-porting of Aegis destroyers in Spain -- as part of European Phased Adaptive Approach and NATO’s missile defense capability.

The United States and NATO continue to believe that cooperation with Russia on missile defense can enhance the security of Americans, Russians and other Europeans. President Obama has stated on many occasions that the United States is committed to finding the right approach to enable missile defense cooperation with Russia. Secretary Clinton repeated this view in Munich earlier this month, saying: “we do not view, very frankly, the ballistic defense system that we are trying to develop here as in any way a threat to Russia. We have made that clear, time and time again…. And we hope that, ultimately, we can resolve those issues, so that we can proceed in a way that represents the defense of Europe, not a threat to Russia.” The goal is to use our overlapping capabilities to address the common threat that ballistic missiles pose for security in Europe, including Russia. Should our collective work reduce this threat from nations like Iran, our missile defense system can adapt accordingly.

The United States and Russia have made progress towards restarting NATO-Russia theater missile defense exercises, which shows that the two sides can cooperate in a way that serves both our interests. The U.S. and NATO will continue to work on reaching political agreement on missile defense. Any such agreement must ensure that NATO’s ability to defend itself is not limited or constrained. As we have stated publicly and privately, U.S. and NATO missile defense is not intended to be, nor will it be, capable of threatening Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent.

Despite this debate about the modalities of missile defense, the United States and Russia share the objective of preventing the development of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability that would directly impact the stability and security of the region and present serious threats to shared U.S. and Russian interests. We are both seeking to obtain a diplomatic resolution that would bring Iran into compliance with its international nuclear obligations and restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. The U.S. appreciates Russian measures to enforce and complement the goals of UNSCR 1929 to convince Iran’s leaders to resolve the nuclear issue by negotiating in good faith with the international community.

As Iran has thus far shown no serious sign of being ready or willing to engage with the P5+1 in serious discussions without preconditions, the United States will continue to coordinate with our partners in Europe and around the world to increase sanctions pressure to sharpen the choice for the Iranian regime between continued violations of its international nuclear obligations and engagement. As a member of the P5+1 and UN Security Council, Russia continues to play a crucial role in working to convince Iran to address the international community’s legitimate concerns about its nuclear program.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about one of the most pressing foreign policy challenges confronting the international community today: the continuing violence in Syria. We have long held that the violence perpetrated by the Assad regime in reaction to what began as a peaceful opposition movement is unacceptable. While Syria will clearly face challenges after Assad, the alternative is not in anyone’s interests – especially as continued violence makes reconciliation more difficult and increases the risk of sectarian conflict in the Middle East.

In response to requests from the Syrian people and the Arab League, the United States and others engaged in intensive diplomacy at the UN Security Council in an effort to put the world on record in support of an immediate halt to the violence; a negotiated, peaceful solution; and a responsible democratic transition. Russia’s decision to veto the draft resolution on Syria is difficult to understand, as it notably and purposefully did not contemplate the use of force or apply sanctions. The draft resolution was also based on the decisions of the Arab League and sought to put the weight of the international community behind a regionally-devised policy. And – while this may not have been the purpose behind the veto – it is very difficult to see how Assad could interpret the failure of the resolution as anything other than permission to continue his brutal crackdown.

The United States is carefully considering a range of options and will work closely with all friends of a democratic Syria to help its people. A stable and democratic transition in Syria that includes an end to violence and Assad’s illegitimate rule is still possible. Although we have heard the regime claim that it is undergoing a reform process, we have only seen violence on the ground. Assad has failed to implement the commitments he made to the Arab League over three months ago: permission for peaceful protests, withdrawal of security forces, release of prisoners, and movement and access to monitors and journalists. There is no reason to believe that this will change; however, it is clear that the status quo cannot continue.

In conclusion, there are many common security threats currently facing the United States, NATO and Russia. Our relationship has evolved since the Cold War era to its current role of confronting a host of new challenges, including the transition in Afghanistan and counter-narcotics. We would welcome similar cooperation on other emerging concerns. With that, let me turn to this group of security experts for your questions and comments.