Telephonic Press Briefing with Admiral John Richardson, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations

Special Briefing
Admiral John Richardson, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations
via teleconference hosted by The Brussels Hub, Belgium
June 28, 2018

Moderator: Greetings to everyone from the U.S.-European Media Hub in Brussels. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across Europe and thank all of you for joining the discussion.

Today we are very pleased to be joined from the UK by Admiral John Richardson, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations. Admiral Richardson will be discussing his travels to Norway, Denmark, the UK and Iceland. We thank Admiral Richardson for taking the time to speak with us today.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Admiral Richardson and then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many as we can during the time that we have. As a reminder, today’s call is on the record.

With that, I will turn it over to Admiral Richardson.

Admiral Richardson: Thank you, Kathy, and good afternoon to everybody. It’s a pleasure to be able to speak with you a little bit about the travels over the last few days. I’ll just take a moment here to provide a scene-setter.

I would say that overall, the theme of my trip has been one, to reinforce the steadfast commitment to the NATO Alliance, particularly as it pertains to the changing dynamic in Northern Europe, North Atlantic. And that’s really just a bit of a subset of a changing dynamic in the maritime environment worldwide. There are very rapid changes over the last 20 years at sea. An area of the world that many sort of traditionally think of as static. It’s actually in fact been very, very dynamic.

So this puts a responsibility on the navies of different nations to be able to respond in a relevant scale and a relevant time frame.

In that vein, my trip started off in Norway. We had a program that started in Oslo. I was hosted by my Norwegian counterpart, the Chief of the Royal Norwegian Navy, Rear Admiral Nils Stensones. The Norwegian Navy and the United States Navy not only are firm partners in the NATO Alliance but also multilateral partners, bilateral partners, and we share even personal relationships as we’ve got several exchange officers in each other’s schools and on each other’s staffs. It’s this sharing of perspective and sharing of information between our two navies and really two defense departments that has allowed us to become combined together not only more lethal and more powerful members of the Alliance, but in a bilateral context as well.

We went up from Oslo to Bergen and spent some time with the Royal Norwegian Navy, including some underway time on one of their Corvettes.

From Bergen we flew to Copenhagen, and there I was again hosted by the Navy’s Chief, the Chief of the Naval Staff there for the Royal Danish Navy, my good friend Torben Mikkelsen, and we discussed again Denmark’s commitment to additional naval power, and Denmark committed to I guess making the most of their exclusive geographic position. They’re in a great neighborhood there with bordering on the Baltic and the North Atlantic, the GIUK gap, et cetera. So we talked about the possibility of future cooperation including future cooperative deployments and shared training opportunities.

I’m speaking to you from my third stop in London where we took some time today to speak at the International Institute for Security Studies. I shared the platform with my close friend and counterpart, the First Sealord Admiral Sir Philip Jones, and I would say that the partnership between the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy really is a standard. It’s a gold standard for sharing of everything from information to capabilities at the very highest ends of naval warfare.

In addition to being steadfast NATO partners, we’ve signed other multilateral arrangements. Just using our bilateral relationship as a platform to enhance naval power in a multilateral context. So running the gamut from everything from theater antisubmarine warfare to strike group ops, thinking about ways to employ our navy, operational concepts to employ the navy with much more dynamic effect. We identified several areas where we can continue to take that partnership and move it even closer.

Our next stop is Iceland. I look forward to discussions there.

And thank you all for dialing in, taking the time to join me, and I look forward to your questions.

Moderator: Thank you very much for those remarks. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.

For our first question we’ll turn to a question that was submitted in advance by Dominic Nicholls from the Telegraph Media Group in the UK.

Question: What will the SCS look like in ten years’ time from a security perspective, and will the U.S. Navy have the freedom to maneuver that it does today?

Admiral Richardson: I think that’s a very insightful question. It’s always good to try and think about ten years downrange because it almost forces you to think strategically. If we consider the importance of the South China Sea today, about 33 percent of the world’s trade flows through that body of water via the Straits of Malacca and up and down the coast. So a very important body of water.

Also look around that neighborhood, around the South China Sea, you see the effect of the system of global rules and norms, laws that have governed the conduct on the high seas and which has fueled the economic prosperity of so many of the countries in that region. So this is, from a security perspective I would say that in ten years’ time we would want a security architecture, a multilateral security architecture that would secure the order on the high seas, and from that order, we would have a normalized and open, transparent way of doing business. One that allows access for all on the high seas. That will enable the prosperity.

So that’s what we have today. We have open trade through the South China Sea. And in ten years’ time I would expect that to be even more firmly embedded and ingrained into business in that important part of the world.

So as a subset of that I would say that the U.S. Navy would continue to have the freedom to maneuver it does today.

Moderator: Thank you very much.

While we wait for questions to come in I’ll pose a question from the moderator. Admiral Richardson, you are responsible for naval operations around the world, but obviously focused on this trip on Europe. Could you talk a little bit about the priorities that you do have in the European region?

Admiral Richardson: I mentioned many of those in the opening statement that I gave. So we’re here to ensure our, the stability and security environment, right? So there are many elements of national power. Clearly as the Chief of Naval Operations for the U.S. Navy I’m very focused on enhancing the military elements of national power, and the dramatic overview of my trip here with the four nations that I’m visiting is to reinforce the sense of stable commitment. Right? And the consistency, I supposed, of that commitment over time.

Particularly, well I’ll say in the NATO context in general, in the, as I said, sort of the multilateral arrangements, bilateral arrangements, to maintain that steady commitment. That consistent partnership has been a theme. And particularly in the context of navy to navy relations.

I would say that in international relationships the military to military relationships provide us a great opportunity because militaries share so much of common culture. Right? And so in some sense a sailor is a sailor. There’s much about our culture that’s defined by the environment that we operate in, et cetera. So it’s a great entrée. And in most military to military, if I could, I might be a little bit biased, but I would say that navy to navy is first among equals because we can go out into international waters and bring two nations or several nations’ navies together, do some very complicated operations that require us to coordinate, communicate, to arrange safety measures, et cetera, operational structures that allow us to operate effectively and safely with each other.

So it provides a great source of stability and reassurance, I supposed, that we will continue to be steadfast partners, committed to one another, committed to this international order that serves everybody so well for the last 70 years.

I think that would be the theme of my visit. Consistency of commitment in our military to military, especially our navy to navy relationships as a source of security that will reassure, assure that sense of order that will allow everybody to prosper.

Moderator: Thank you.

Are there particular challenges that you are able to work with bilaterally with the partners that you are meeting that you could highlight for our journalists?

Admiral Richardson: Well, I don’t know if I would put it so much as challenges, but I think all of us are dynamically responding to some well-known challenges in the area. But it’s also an opportunity for, it’s also a sense of opportunity. So as we move forward, the sense that with the return of great power competition, we need to step up to the plate with a renewed sense of urgency and innovation so that we can remain superior, remain responsive, and stay relevant, maintain our momentum, our forward momentum in this very fast-moving environment. Whether that’s, as I said, the maritime environment’s changing pretty quickly, very quickly. The technology environment changes very quickly. The international security environment.

So in that way, the military dimension of national power can serve as sort of the keel to the ship of state, if you will, as it navigates, allowing the other elements, the diplomatic, economic elements of national power to do their business on a stable platform that can stay the course.

Moderator: Thank you.

That looks like it wraps up our questions. Admiral Richardson, do you have any closing words that you would like to offer?

Admiral Richardson: No. Thanks everybody for dialing in.

Moderator: And thank you, Admiral Richardson, for joining us and thank all of you for participating and for your questions.