On-the-Record Press Call by NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby and Assistant Secretary for Defense Celeste Wallander
12:06 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us today. We wanted to take an opportunity to brief you guys. I know some of you had questions on the force posture announcements that were made today.
This briefing is on the record, and it is embargoed until the end of the call. Our speakers today are John Kirby, who many of you already know. And then we also have, from the Department of Defense, Celeste Wallander, who's the Assistant Secretary for Defense for International Security Affairs.
We're going to have John Kirby start with some remarks at the top, and then Celeste Wallander will go, and then we'll try to take as many questions as we can.
So, John, over to you.
MR. KIRBY: Thank you, [moderator], and good afternoon, everybody. I just want to offer a couple of framing thoughts here before I turn it over to Celeste to speak in more detail about the force posture announcements that the President made today.
And the first thing is, I think it's important to remember that today's announcement just comes after several months of President Biden's leadership when it comes to shoring up NATO's eastern flank. And just to remind, I mean, just since the invasion itself, he ordered the deployment or extension of over 20,000 additional forces to Europe in response to the crisis, all across the domains -- air, land, maritime, cyber, space, the whole swath of U.S. military capabilities -- which brought our total to over 100,000 service members across Europe, up from where it was before, around 80.
And, you know, to remind, that included a carrier strike group, additional fighter squadrons, an infantry brigade combat team, an armored brigade combat team, a host of enabling capabilities that went along with that, including an amphibious readiness group.
The President also ordered the entire U.S. commitment to the NATO Response Force put on heightened alert and readiness.
And, of course, all of that came on top of the President's decision to move forces around that were already in Europe, again, closer to the eastern flank, including a Stryker brigade combat team from Germany to Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary; Patriot batteries from Germany to Slovakia; F-15s from the UK to Poland. All of those were already there, and the President saw fit that they needed to be moved around closer to the eastern flank to shore up that readiness and deterrence posture.
And then, all of that, of course, underscores how much the President realized, even before the invasion began, that the security environment in Europe had changed -- not "was changing," not "will change," but "has changed." And he recognized that back in the fall when he was talking to the leaders of Sweden and Finland about potential NATO accession.
That is why this particular NATO Summit is going to be so important. And there's some key outcomes that we're striving towards. I won't go into great detail on all of them. I think you're tracking this, but one has a new Strategic Concept, of course. Two, stronger deterrence and defense. Obviously, three, the invitation to Finland and Sweden to join the Alliance, to bring the Alliance to 32 nations. Greater resourcing from each of the nations, in terms of their defense spending. Obviously, support from Ukraine; they're going to hear from President Zelenskyy at this summit.
And then expanding and improving global partnerships. For the very first time, the leaders of Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea are going to participate. In fact, the President is going to be sitting down with the leaders of Japan and the Republic of Korea later this afternoon.
So, if you just look at those ma- -- those six major outcomes, two of them here -- before the first day is even half over, two of them have been realized: greater defense and deterrence along the eastern flank with these new announcements that the President made and, of course, now the path is clear to invite Sweden and Finland onboard the Alliance.
It's just an incredible amount of progress for a half a day already in the summit. And the President really has been at the forefront of driving these changes forward.
So, with respect now to those changes on deterrence and defense, I'm going to kick it over to Celeste to walk you through a little bit more in detail, and then we'll take some questions.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WALLANDER: Great. Thanks, John. Happy to be here to help explain what I can and be helpful to you all.
I would just add to John's framing that the posture decisions that are being announced today, that the President is announcing today are reflective of the United States government's recognition that, as John said, that the security environment has changed and -- in particular, in the NATO AOR -- that the eastern flank countries are facing a heightened threat of a Russian leadership that has shown itself willing and capable of launching military attacks on bordering countries.
And the surge -- crisis-surge activities and decisions that John has already laid out help to create a stronger deterrent capability and defense capability, in particular in those eastern flank countries -- the eight eastern flank countries.
And these decisions on posture now make those crisis-surge decisions and movements more sustainable and more combat-credible in several important respects.
First of all, the decision to keep a rotational Army brigade combat team in Poland and to now headquarter a Army brigade combat team in Romania creates the capability for the United States to sustain our rotational heel-to-toe presence in the eastern flank countries and in particular but not exclusively in the three Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
By having those two rotational BCTs located in Poland and Romania, the United States will be able to sustain the kind of surge contributions that we've made in the last couple of months. That's number one.
Number two, by having those BCTs in Poland and Romania, the United States will be able to sustain for itself and for those Allies a very rigorous schedule of training, on training ranges, particularly in Romania, but also in Poland.
U.S. forces rotating in Europe will be able to maintain a very high readiness level because we will have those BCTs in Romania and in Poland. And we will have, therefore, a higher level of interoperability with NATO Allies by being able to train with them in the European AOR on a regular basis.
And those forces then -- third, and along the same lines -- will support robust exercises -- both NATO and other multilateral exercises -- which, again, enhance interoperability and sustain a high level of readiness.
It's those elements of credible combat capability that is really important for sending a message of effective defense capabilities and, therefore, effective deterrence. So that's, sort of, the first framing about the importance of the BCTs in Poland and in Romania.
On top of that, as you've seen in the factsheet, the United States has decided to permanently forward station the V Corps headquarters Forward Command Post and Army Garrison headquarters and Field Support Battalion in Poland.
This is a significant decision precisely because of the changed security environment and the recognition that the United States needs to have a longer-term capability to sustain our presence, our training, our activities, and our support to the countries of the eastern flank, both bilaterally and through the NATO battle groups -- battle groups which are in those eight forward flank countries.
So the key element of American ability to sustain now this new world in which NATO (inaudible) defense and deterrence combat capability is forward in those eight flank countries is our bilateral relationship with Poland. And I want to highlight how important our bilateral relationship with Poland is.
Poland is a strong NATO Ally. It has made its own decisions on increasing defense spending, on increasing its own combat capability, on modernizing its defense forces. And so, the bilateral partnership that the United States has and the enhanced presence we will now have in Poland supports then the broader NATO capabilities.
And finally, I just want to point to a number of the non-ground forces -- capabilities that are part of this posture decision. Specifically, the increase of destroyers that will be based in Rota, Spain, from four to six. And there are many I could point to in the factsheet, but I would also point to the significant air defense and air domain capabilities that will come along with these new posture changes to support the broader package of U.S. combat credibility in the NATO AOR.
So let me stop there and take your questions.
Q: Hi. Thanks for doing the call. I just want to clarify the number of groups that are going to be in the rotational presence in Romania. The President said during his meeting with Jens Stoltenberg that there'll be 3,000 fighters and then 2,000 personnel. So is that 5,000 total personnel, including 3,000 fighters? Can you please clarify that figure? Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WALLANDER: Hi. Yeah, I can't get in -- I won't get into the precise numbers of a brigade combat team. Those precise numbers can vary depending on whether it's, you know, on the exact formation of the combat team.
So I would, I would stick with: The presence of a brigade combat team headquartered in Romania with available elements, whether that be company, battalion, or other size enablers connected to that brigade combat team that will be available for a rotational presence.
Q: Hey, Celeste. And, John, thanks for doing this. I think these are for you, but, John, if you want to jump in.
So you used the word "permanent." Obviously, for the Fifth Corps in Poland, you used that word twice. Does that mean that U.S. policy has now concluded the NATO-Russia Founding Act -- in which NATO promised not to station troops in Eastern European permanently -- no longer applies? Because I'm pretty sure -- and I think the factsheet points this out -- you haven't used that word before.
And you don't use "permanent" again in the Baltics. You use, you know, persistent "heel-to-toe," as we've been using.
And then on Romania, just a clarification: Making sure this is a U.S. BCT, not a U.S.-led NATO battlegroup that happens to be a brigade size.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WALLANDER: Right. Both good questions. On -- and I'll -- also, I'm sure John has (inaudible), but I -- the NATO-Russia Founding Act makes a commitment for no substantial combat forces. And therefore, the decision to permanently forward station the V Corps Headquarters forward command post does not -- you know, it's consistent with that commitment and our understanding of the NATO-Russia Founding Act.
Let me just check and make sure that's John's understanding as well, but that's our understanding at DOD, I believe.
MR. KIRBY: Yes, of course.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WALLANDER: Okay.
On the BCT that will be deployed -- positioned in Romania: That is a U.S. bilateral contribution. It is -- it does not replace or -- the framework nation for the NATO battlegroup in Romania is France. And France -- we support France's leadership in that battlegroup.
That BCT could, in principle, be available for resourcing support to that battlegroup, you know, in future. We haven't made any decisions along those lines. We would need to talk to France about that. But it is -- it is separate from the French-led NATO battlegroup.
Q: Yes, thank you. What is the bottom line of how many new U.S. troops are part of this announcement? We just heard there's about 100,000 U.S. troops in Europe currently. How many new troops will be part of this, and where are they coming from?
And lastly, how do these new troops fit into the 300,000 NATO Response Force troops that the Secretary announced the other day?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WALLANDER: So I can't get into the total numbers that would add up from the force posture decisions, nor where they're coming from for security and operational planning reasons.
I think we'll be able to give numbers in the future as we, you know, identify the specific units. This -- these force posture changes will take place over the coming months. But at this point, you know, we can't really give you specific numbers on any of those questions, I'm afraid.
Q: Thanks for doing this. So, under your agreements with Russia, you are obliged to sort of notify these kinds of changes -- any force posture changes. Has that happened? The Russians are saying that they haven't received formal notification.
And can you also just -- I realize you can't give us numbers per se at this point. But can you give us a ballpark? Will it add thousands, tens of thousands? Just so we've got a, sort of, a ballpark figure. Thanks so much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WALLANDER: So, on the numbers, let me validate whether we can give you a ballpark number, because I don't want to -- I'm looking at the factsheet, and if I start adding up the numbers in my head, my math may go sideways.
On the requirement to notify Russia about changes in U.S. posture, I'm not tracking what agreement -- what legally binding agreement we have with Russia that would require us to notify force posture changes. So can you either clarify or -- I just -- I don't believe we are aware of one. But, again, I would defer to John if he's aware of one.
MR. KIRBY: No, I know of no requirement to inform the Russians. I mean, we added -- over the last several months, as I said, we went from around 80,000 to 100,000 troops in Europe, most of them, obviously, in a rotational, temporary basis, and there was no notification requirement.
We were very public about those decisions as we made them, and we're being public about these decisions as we make them now.
Q: Okay, so there is no legal requirement, to your understanding?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WALLANDER: There is no --
Q: And has there been any communication direct --
MR. KIRBY: There has been no communication with Moscow about these changes, nor is there a requirement to do that.
And, again, back to Celeste's point: You know, the vast, vast majority of these force posture changes we're making are, as she described them, "heel-to-toe" rotational deployments.
So, the presence will stay persistent, but it won't always be the same brigade combat team for years and years and years or -- or any other aircraft squadron. They'll be the -- we're setting this up in such a way that we can rotationally deploy at higher levels in Europe than we had before the invasion.
Q: Yes. Thank you so much, guys, for doing this call. As you think about the American-made weaponry that's going to be dispatched around the region -- obviously, there's a very high stakes meeting with President Erdo?an later today. And I'm wondering how the U.S. sees the potential sale of F-16s to Turkey -- whether it has strategic merit in the times that we're living in, and how the U.S. is thinking about it going into that meeting. Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WALLANDER: Sure. The -- you know, Turkey is a highly capable, highly valued, strategic NATO Ally. And Turkish defense capability -- strong Turkish defense capabilities contribute to strong NATO defense capabilities.
So, the U.S. Department of Defense fully supports Turkey's modernization plans for its F-16 fleet. The -- these plans are in the works. And, you know, they need to be worked through our contracting processes. But the United States supports Turkey's modernization of its fighter fleet because that is a contribution to NATO security and therefore American security.
Q: Great. Thank you. Two quick questions. Do we know yet if President Zelenskyy has addressed the leaders? And if so, can someone give us a feel on what he may have said?
And second, in the opening, I think it was John Kirby who mentioned the Strategic Concept. Can -- is there any insight anyone can share into what language the United States is seeking in the Strategic Concept as it relates to China?
MR. KIRBY: Let me take the Strategic Concept one real quick, and then I'll defer to Celeste on President Zelenskyy because I think she's on site.
But it's -- there hasn't been an updated Strategic Concept since 2010. And the world was much different in 2010 than it is in 2022. And so, obviously, all leaders believe it's time to update the document and to make sure that it outlines NATO's transformation with respect to the 2030 agenda that was adopted in last year's summit. So it's -- it's going to help guide efforts to safeguard our security -- Euro-Atlantic security in response to Russia's aggressions clearly.
But it's also going to mention for the first time the system -- systemic challenges that are posed by China. And quite frankly, the deepening strategic partnership that we see evolving between Russia and China and how that affects our allies.
I mean, I won't get ahead of the exact language. But clearly, our Allies have likewise been concerned about this growing, burgeoning relationship between Russia and China. They have growing concerns about China's unfair trade practices, use of forced labor, theft of intellectual property, and their bullying and coercive activities not just in the Indo-Pacific, but around the world.
And again, I won't get ahead of the exact language, but it is significant that for the first time a Strategic Concept from NATO will specifically mention China.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And in regards to the President Zelenskyy question, he is set to speak at the session one, which is ongoing. We're going to endeavor to read out that session to you all after it's over. So, look out for that.
Anyways, thanks again for joining. As a reminder, this call was on the record. The embargo of the contents of this call lifts after the call ends.
Thanks for joining.
12:28 P.M. CEST
Joseph R. Biden, On-the-Record Press Call by NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby and Assistant Secretary for Defense Celeste Wallander Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/356659