General Scaparrotti, Commander of U.S. European Command, Statement to the Press:
It’s great to be here in beautiful Lake Bled. I thank you for the chance today to discuss the relationships we enjoy among U.S. European Command, our NATO Allies and Partners, and especially our Slovenian hosts. I greatly appreciate the contributions of your country and your military.
I know that our many service members of whom you’ve hosted in the past appreciate the chance to train here, especially in the recent Exercise Immediate Response, during which our forces came together to train at a battalion level earlier this month. I thank you General Andrej Osterman.
Thank you for the warm welcome this week and for co-hosting this conference; and thanks to the eight Central European nations who participated, as well. It’s always important when we get our chiefs of defense from these nations together.
We’ve had a honest and dynamic discussion regarding the issues and challenges we face here in Europe. And during the conference we discussed ways to strengthen the alliance: improving freedom of movement of our military forces in Europe; Russian aggression and malign influence; and countering transnational threats, particularly the migrant crisis, which is greatly impacted many of the countries represented in this conference, and in particular Slovenia as well. As a group we’ve improved our understanding of each other’s issues, collectively and individually. We exchanged views on the future outlook of regional cooperation.
And we discussed the value of the State Partnership Program, and all of its participants, as well as highlighted the value of a strong and professional enlisted corps and non-commissioned officer corps, which is a significant interest to me—this is one area that I feel we can leverage to improve the interoperability and readiness of the alliance.
There is no more important time than now for us to come together, and I reemphasize my charge for the continued dialogue of all the nations represented here today.
Finally, I'd like to again express my gratitude to you, General Osterman, Andrej, and your staff, for hosting us. It was an excellent conference and the support couldn’t be better.
Please know that U.S. European Command is committed to strengthening the bonds between the United States and Slovenia, and that we remain fully committed to the collective defense of our NATO Allies.
Again, I thank you for giving us this opportunity today; and I’m prepared for your questions.
Question: You mentioned Russian aggression, I would like to ask you what kind of proof do you have the Russians are giving weapons to the separatists in Ukraine and what is the final goal of NATO involvement in Ukrainian war or crisis?
Well first of all, we know that the separatists are actually a combined Russian-Separatist force. They provide weapons, training and advisors in Eastern Ukraine and we must remember that this is a violation of international law as well as the annexation of Crimea. As a goal, I think that our nation and those working on this have been very clear that Russia must end its occupation of Eastern Ukraine and must end it’s annexation of Crimea. We call on Russia to meet their commitments of the Minsk agreement to withdraw their forces, and to support the unfettered ability of the OSCE monitoring teams to do their job within Ukraine as well.
Question: What will be the final result in Ukraine?
The final result remains to be seen. It’ll be, I think largely up to Russia and how much they support this, but obviously we support the sovereignty of Ukraine and it should be meeting the Minsk agreements as it was established originally; and again we call on Russia to help us see, or realize those goals.
Question: General with your vast military experience, five years ago could you have predicted such a shift in geopolitics and renewal of the old tensions and threat environment?
I’d say this, I think if you look at how most of our leadership has looked into the future; that’s one of the things that we almost always get wrong. It’s very hard to be accurate in that prediction. So I would tell you that it’s not unusual throughout history that we haven’t been exactly right or prepared for what occurs. But if you look at the shift that has occurred in Europe over the last few years it’s significant and we have to have, in the military perspective, a different mindset because of that shift; we have to look at a different posture of our forces; we have to ensure we have a different readiness of our force, for responsiveness, and we need also the support of the different countries both from a political and from an administrative position in order to help our military deter Russia and deal with the other threats, the challenges that Europe experiences today - in particular the radical threat being terrorists as well as this refugee challenge that we have. So, significant change and it requires us also to change our military posture to deal with those problems.
Question: Are the allies prepared for a totally different geostrategic challenges, and by allies I mainly think about Slovenia. Is our military in shape with which we can face contemporary threats?
First I would tell you Slovenia has a fine military that’s contributed to the shift that I’m talking about. That’s contributed to the things that we’re doing as an Alliance and as partners to counter the threats. They have contributed, although a small country, they have contributed to our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the counter ISIL activities that we’ve undertaken, as well as in Kosovo and our K4 force there is very important to us as well. So, I applaud Slovenia for that. In terms of a general outlook for the Alliance and the nations in Europe, we’re all in the center of this shift. I think that we’ve all responded well. Warsaw was a significant summit where we, after two years, we made a statement of solidarity about the defense of Europe; and laid down new force requirements to ensure that we can deter Russia and meet the threats that we see here in Europe. So, are we where we need to be? No. But we are on the path and we’ll have to stay focused and continue to work to get to where we need to be to ensure the defense of Europe.