Meeting the Foreign Policy Challenges of 2017 and Beyond

Secretary Rex Tillerson

Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
The 2017 Atlantic Council-Korea Foundation Forum
Washington, DC
December 12, 2017


I want to touch a bit on the NATO and Europe relationship quickly, and this was an early trip of the President’s as well. And I think the important thing is that the Atlantic alliance is as strong as ever, notwithstanding what people may describe or want to write. And I just came back from a full week in Europe, two days in Brussels and NATO, and meetings with the EU member countries. I was in Vienna for the OSCE meetings, and then a full day in Paris. Everywhere that I went this past week and in every engagement, there are still very strong ties between the U.S. and all of our partners and allies within Europe. And there is great unity around issues of importance to both of us, which are security issues, economic and trade issues.

We have a lot that we have to work through, and the President’s message to our European allies has been, we’re there for you. We will be there for you. But at NATO in particular – and we will meet that Article 5 commitment – but to our NATO partners and  member countries, you cannot ask the American people to care more about the security of your citizens than you care yourself.

And so the President has been very demanding on burden-sharing, that the American people simply cannot carry a disproportionate share of this burden for years to come, and everyone has to be willing to take their share of this. There are agreements in NATO for all countries to achieve a 2 percent of GDP defense spending, and the President is putting a lot of pressure on countries to meet that.

A number of countries have stepped up. NATO’s receipts and spending are up about 8 percent this year, and others have put in commitments and plans to increase their defense spending. This will give NATO a stronger defense posture to deal with threats from the south, which is an area we’ve asked NATO to focus on, counterterrorism, because European countries are – feel the greatest effects of the transmigration that has occurred as a result of ISIS, and also threats from the east, from Russia, which brings me to Russia.

I think the President has been quite clear that he views it as extremely important that the United States and Russia have a working relationship. Today we do not. And I’ve touched on areas where we are cooperating, in Syria. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is something that we cannot accept. As I’ve indicated to others in Europe last week, it’s one thing for countries to choose sides in conflicts. Russia wanted to choose the side of Bashar al-Assad; we chose not to. But when you invade another country and take their territory, we cannot – that cannot be left to stand. And that is the basis for the very stringent sanctions regime that the U.S. and Europe imposed on Russia as a result of that invasion, and that regime will not change until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is resolved and Ukraine’s territorial integrity is returned.

We are engaged in attempting to break the logjam for east Ukraine to implement the Minsk accords. These talks were frozen when the President took office. In our first meetings – in my first meeting with President Putin, he asked if we would appoint someone to work directly to – with him, with the Kremlin to see if we could restart these talks or restart some movement. I appointed former NATO Ambassador Kurt Volker to take that task on. The task we’re working on immediately is – and we’re focused on east Ukraine because the violence in east Ukraine continues. But we have higher incidents of civilian casualties and deaths in 2017 than we had in 2016, incidents of ceasefire violations are up 60 percent, and we must get the violence down in east Ukraine. And so our priority is to end the violence, stop the killing that’s going on in east Ukraine, and we are working with Russia to see if we can come to some agreement on the mandate for a UN peacekeeping force that will bring this violence to an end. Then we can turn to the other elements that have to be implemented.

The government in Kyiv has much to do to continue their own reforms and to meet their obligations under Minsk. Russia has to use its influence on the rebel forces it is supporting in east Ukraine to end this violence and move us back towards progress under the Minsk accords. We will return to the issue of Crimea. I know that President Putin’s made it clear that that’s not on the table for discussion. It will be at some point. But today, we want to stop the violence in east Ukraine and let’s see if we can solve that one.

In other areas with Russia, we are looking for possible cooperations where we have joint counterterrorism interest. We know we’re going to have to continue to deal with Russia’s hybrid warfare. We felt it in our elections and we now have reports from many European countries that they’re seeing the same effects. It is something I do not understand about why Russia thinks it’s in its interest to disrupt the free and fair elections of other countries. What do you hope to achieve? I don’t understand it and no one’s been able to answer that question for me. But we make it clear that we see it, it needs to end, it needs to stop, and it too stands in the way of renormalizing our relationships.

We maintain a very active dialogue with our Russian counterparts, very strong mil-to-mil dialogue, very strong diplomatic dialogue. And so we’re going to keep that dialogue underway, but as we’ve said to our Russian counterparts, we need some good news.  We need something good to happen in this relationship, and today we can’t point to anything. We’re waiting. We’re waiting.