This is all part of the hybrid and cyber warfare that we see constantly within our alliance, trying to sow not only discontent but trying to devalue our leadership at a time when our publics need to look to our leadership for the protection and the help that they need. So we are vigorously pushing back and we think that we can even do more through the alliance in a concerted way to say, “Knock off the disinformation in this humanitarian crisis” U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison has told reporters on Tuesday in “FPC” Washington, D.C.
We are concerned about disinformation that is being put forward by Russia and China about how this all started, and I think there is a lot of criticism of our different government leaders trying to sow discontent in our alliance and with our partners. And we at NATO, this is one of the areas where we are asking all of our allies to push back with the facts. NATO will do the same. And we also think we can do better for learning from this experience. No one thought that our adversaries would try to sow discontent at a time like this, but they have and they’ve also falsely reported that they are trying to help. They have falsely reported that this virus started either in Europe or in the United States, depending on which outlet is providing disinformation. All of this is absolutely false and we are trying to answer the misinformation with facts, She said.
Below is a full rush transcript of the press conference by Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO.
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Thank you, We are looking forward to having all of our defense ministers in a meeting tomorrow – virtual, of course, because no one is traveling. But we do think this is a very important time to have an emergency-called meeting because of the way the COVID-19 is affecting all of our countries, and something that we are addressing right now, but we’re also looking to plan for the future so that if we have another situation in which we have a pandemic that affects all of our countries at the same time, we will have even more capabilities to help each other.
We are helping each other. Allies are adding so much equipment and aid to other allies, especially where the hot spots are in Europe and in the United States, and Canada of course. And we are really pleased that NATO could have a strong role in transporting equipment, because we do have those capabilities in Europe, and particularly now, NATO is the central point where allies can call and say what they need, and NATO can find the transportation and coordinate getting equipment and help for our countries.
Let me say that we have also our missions that are ongoing throughout the world. Afghanistan is a mission, of course, where we are focusing on troop protection and making sure that our forces are safe when they’re in the field. The mission that we have in Iraq has been put on hold because Iraq has been affected by the virus, and – the situation in Iran where the virus is very much a problem and it has gone over into Iraq. And then, of course, we have Kosovo, an enhanced forward presence in Europe where we are taking all the measures that we possibly can to protect our troops wherever they are in Europe or in the Middle East.
It is also, I think – the last point I will make – it’s very important that we also – and I think Secretary Esper will stress this tomorrow as well – that we look at the role defense has played in the response of all of our countries. We have seen in America our military building pop-up hospitals, trying to make sure that we have not only equipment, but also transportation and military personnel who are so experienced in trying to serve people in time of need. And our military personnel have stepped up to the plate in all of our alliance, doing the things that our people need to do, that our publics need to have.
And we’re very proud that NATO could play a part, but also I want to emphasize that the defense spending that we have increased in the last few years is making us more ready and more capable to help our publics in this great time — that they have called on the military for the added help that our health care systems just couldn’t provide with this pandemic situation. So I’m very pleased that we will have the defense ministerial tomorrow, and I look forward to answering any questions that you might have today.
QUESTION: The NATO secretary general this morning made clear that he thinks going forward there are important lessons to be learned about national resilience. I wonder what your thought is about that and whether that is something for NATO to be involved in, and particularly whether you – where you see any weak spots or strong spots in resilience from this ?
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: I think there is a unique role that NATO can play in planning for the future. All of us were surprised that we would have a pandemic affecting every one of our countries at the same time. Normally we would have a regional issue and we would address that all together, but now we are going to learn from this experience that we have to be prepared for something that could affect us so totally at the same time. So we are going to ask our NATO leaders and our military leaders to put forward plans from what we have learned in this.
For instance, we are suggesting that we have a warehouse in which we would have nonperishable equipment, but the things that we all know we were short of in this epidemic. And if we could have warehousing of that, which NATO certainly has the capability to do, and then if the NATO forces could inventory transport capabilities – that could be air, it could also be train, rail, it could be highway – but we have capabilities at NATO to coordinate something like this and get the equipment in much faster. And I think what our military has shown is the ability to do these instant hospitals so that if we have large numbers of people affected, our military experience is going to show us how we can do this even more effectively and more quickly so that we are more prepared.
So I think NATO is going to take a role. I think we can look at this as a service for our publics. This is a health care crisis, but it could be a security crisis as well. It could be a security crisis if we let down on our defenses and deterrent activities. Our adversaries will be watching to see if that is the case, which it is not at this time, but we can also prepare for that in the future. But it could also be a security risk if this kind of eventuality is an eventuality that is used in warfare or to attack each other. These are the things that we must learn from and prepare for, that it could be health care today but it could be defense tomorrow.
QUESTION: Albanian Government is so harsh on the people about lockdowns. They’re asking 15 years in prison for the people getting out ?
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Oh, I understand that this is harsh. The national governments are able to make their own decisions, of course, on how they would punish people who are not wearing facemasks or who are not protecting not only themselves but people around them, and I think that has to be a sovereign decision. I do think that the message is such an important one that we all have a responsibility to protect ourselves. Even if we don’t have formal masks, I think the makeshift coverings of our faces are also very important. I thought – I think many people are giving good examples. Our First Lady is giving a good example of wearing a mask and how you would put one on, and I think that our leaders need to reinforce this very important safety measure that it not only protect each individual but it affect all of the people around us. We know that this is an airborne, unsee-able virus, but it is having a deadly impact and it is incumbent on all of us to listen to our leaders, to take their example, and to go forward helping each other in this very important but very easily accomplished way.
QUESTION: Now, with the outbreak which is present basically everywhere, including military bases and recently it’s even present on board of Navy ships, not to mention the aircraft carrier, is U.S. military and NATO in general fully operational? Does it still have full capabilities? And aren’t you afraid that some bad actors might try to use this crisis to their benefit?
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: I think that, again, this is very important. Our adversaries are watching. Our military is ready and all of our missions — except for Iraq, which is temporarily on pause – but we are ready to go. We are continuing to do our deterrence and defense capabilities and our adversaries should be put on notice that we could certainly respond to any kind of aggressive measure that might be taken.
At the same time, we are also trying to help each other. We are trying to make sure that in a humanitarian crisis we are doing everything we can to support our troops who are in the field doing these jobs, so we’re taking every measure. For instance, in Afghanistan, if there are troops coming in, they have a 14-day quarantine before they enter. We are working very hard to assure that our troops do have that backup and it’s very hard in some instances when our troops are used to working together, living together, and we’re working through that. But make no mistake: Our deterrence is absolutely intact and ready to respond to any military crisis that we might face.
QUESTION: There was an interesting piece by the Atlantic Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe a couple of weeks ago proposing that the U.S. invoke Article 5 of the NATO treaty on – for COVID-19, as was done after the 11th of September, the 9/11 terrorist attacks ?
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Well, the only time Article 5 has been invoked of course was after 9/11. I think all of us are coming together right now to fight COVID, and they are – COVID, the virus, is our enemy, but there has been no discussion of an Article 5 being necessary because we are already coming together to help each other and try to provide the provisions that our separate countries need. And I think we’re in different phases in our different countries on the enormity of the situation. Most certainly the United States is now topping all of our allies in numbers of deaths, and so we are focused on trying to make sure that our Americans are taken care of, and we’re reaching out – our President, our governors are all reaching out to do the most that we can, and our military has stepped up to the plate. Our National Guard and our active duty military are filling in where hospital workers are overworked and strained and sparse.
And I think all of us are saluting our health care workers wherever we are. Every one of our allies now has health care workers in the field and our military are in many instances helping them and augmenting the services they are providing.
So there hasn’t been a formal Article 5 on this virus, but there certainly is an informal one that all of us are allied and fighting together.
QUESTION: I have a question as a follow-up to this morning press conference of Secretary Stoltenberg. He said that one of the major topics for discussion will be disinformation. And can you please give us first your perception of what disinformation campaign is going on now, what kind of it, from what countries, what examples? And second, what practical measures could NATO take to deter this disinformation, to fight it?
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: I think that is a very valid observation. We are concerned about disinformation that is being put forward by Russia and China about how this all started, and I think there is a lot of criticism of our different government leaders trying to sow discontent in our alliance and with our partners. And we at NATO, this is one of the areas where we are asking all of our allies to push back with the facts. NATO will do the same. And we also think we can do better for learning from this experience. No one thought that our adversaries would try to sow discontent at a time like this, but they have and they’ve also falsely reported that they are trying to help. They have falsely reported that this virus started either in Europe or in the United States, depending on which outlet is providing disinformation. All of this is absolutely false and we are trying to answer the misinformation with facts.
This is all part of the hybrid and cyber warfare that we see constantly within our alliance, trying to sow not only discontent but trying to devalue our leadership at a time when our publics need to look to our leadership for the protection and the help that they need. So we are vigorously pushing back and we think that we can even do more through the alliance in a concerted way to say, “Knock off the disinformation in this humanitarian crisis.”
QUESTION: The North Macedonia started to use next-generation incident command system, NICS instrument for response in emergency situations. Can you explain for all of us what is this instrument and how it works, especially for those countries in the Western Balkans who are dealing with the coronavirus?
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: we have already been able to send help, equipment to North Macedonia, and I was glad that – because you’ve been a member for just a few weeks, that you did call NATO and we were able to deliver equipment into your country. Also, of course, you’re right – there has been a lot of this disinformation in North Macedonia and others in the Western Balkans because – and I have to say, that has been ongoing for a long time because Russia in particular has tried to sow disinformation, really tried to keep North Macedonia from seeking to be a member of NATO and then when the accession was accepted has continued to put disinformation into North Macedonia, which we are trying to direct against with the facts that North Macedonia is being supported by NATO. They are a full-fledged member of NATO, they are an ally, and we are helping them in this crisis, and we will continue to help them with the disinformation that is coming in from Russian sources.
The first group went into Montenegro, one of the neighbors for North Macedonia. And I think that those will be available to Northern Macedonia as well to prepare the North Macedonian media to repel these disinformation campaigns.
So I should have answered that more fully about what you could expect, because we do have those working in Montenegro, and we will certainly look to answer requests from North Macedonia of these hybrid support teams to train the people there to repel these disinformation campaigns coming in.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you, beyond cooperation there have also been some reports of tensions between NATO members. So there have been these reports of the U.S. outbidding some European partners on some medical supplies and there has been some polemic on this issue. Will this be tackled by the defense ministers tomorrow, or will it be tackled elsewhere by at some different levels?
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Well, we have certainly tried to answer that ridiculous assertion, and it doesn’t even bear repeating that America would steal equipment from any other country, even one we didn’t like, but especially not our own allies and partners. So that was repelled forcefully. We hope it didn’t go very far. But it is things like that that are just amazing that anyone would say something like that, but there are so many other things that are being said that seem ridiculous, but if people don’t have the facts, they can’t make the decision that this is something that would never happen.
QUESTION: How does assess – attacks by Taliban, which is continuous violence against ANDS, and what is the impact in the peace process? foreign minister announced a one billion cut aid in Afghanistan. Could you please give some information about this one billion cut? Is cost for the military section, or it’s in the other part?
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: Let me say that all of our countries are looking forward and pushing forward for the Taliban to keep its word, both in spirit as well as in detail, that the violence would subside. It has not, and we are calling on the Taliban, all of us, to lessen the violence, to cease fire, especially in this humanitarian crisis, when the people of Afghanistan are affected. And most certainly the Afghan troops, who are fighting valiantly for the peace for their country, to have to have attacks against them by the Taliban is outrageous.
On the other hand, the leadership of Afghanistan, the – President Ghani and Mr. Abdullah need to come together and show the strength of a unified government. It will take that to start the peace process and for the Taliban to sit down with the government appointees, who are representative of the different factions and areas of Afghanistan. The two leaders have both blessed that negotiating group as representative of the people of Afghanistan, and we call on the Taliban to stop the delays, to stop the violence, and to begin the peace process.
Some progress was made this weekend with the exchange of prisoners. That was part of the agreement that was made. Those exchanges were made. That is one step in the right direction. We need all of the Afghan people to encourage their leaders and the Taliban to continue forward for the sit-down around the table of the Afghan people to make a peace that they can all live with so that they will have what they rightly deserve, which is freedom, human rights, equality, education for all in that country.
That’s what we want for the people of Afghanistan, and none of us who are helping to bring that together want to be a factor that would be the deciding factor in that peace agreement. We want the Afghan people to speak for their government, to be as it should be for them as they want it to be, and we’re very much hoping that all the sides can come together to begin that process in earnest.
QUESTION: Considering that all the GDPs of NATO countries are now probably going to decrease, and also many citizens will probably like their governments to spend rather on health or social issues, you think NATO would also have to adapt the message on defense expenditure?
AMBASSADOR HUTCHISON: I think it will be more important than ever for our defense expenditures to stay at the higher levels that we have committed to do. All of us have committed to increase defense spending. And we need to continue to keep those commitments, because we now see that, first of all, security is our most important asset. That is what makes for the democracies and the peace that we all live in.
And secondly, I think we have seen that the defense spending has been such an important part of the response in this humanitarian crisis, in this health care crisis. And the defense techniques for dealing with the pandemic have been an asset to all of our countries. So both our partners, as you are, and our allies – I think the defense spending is going to be essential that we keep in our priorities, and that all of us have also gotten such a benefit from the added military component of the response that I think that in itself would say that we need to keep that training and that equipment ready to go for any kind of pandemic or defense capability that we would need in the future. That’s what we’re doing together.