Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–May 22, 2014.
ROSE: Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us.
SEC. HAGEL: Charlie, thank you.
ROSE: I’m actually joining you. This is a part of what you command here on this naval ship here in New York at Fleet Week. How do you like your job?
SEC. HAGEL: I am privileged to have this job. I like this job as much as any job I’ve ever had. I mean who could not like this job? You are associating every day with some of the most unique, special people in the world, people who give completely of themselves, their families. You’re doing this at a time when the world is essentially redefining itself. We are in this country, in many ways.
ROSE: Your own service in Vietnam was a defining moment for you.
SEC. HAGEL: Yes. Well, I think anyone who serves our country in any capacity, it is a defining moment, but I think battle, combat, war further defines you. It probably tests an individual as deeply and widely as you can be tested. I look back on those days, Charlie, every day. It certainly helps me do the job I have now because it gives me some connection to the men and women who sacrifice all over the world.
I have some sense of that. I have some appreciation and understanding of what they go through. So yes, it was a very important part of my life and I carried that through in every job I’ve ever had.
ROSE: I was with as you know the rangers last night and General Stan McChrystal, the sense of camaraderie and the sense that they feel that it’s about each other is an extraordinary emotion that you feel when you’re among young men and women who go in harm’s way.
SEC. HAGEL: Well I think you start with this. They must rely on each other because if one link in that chain is weak or something happens, then the chain breaks and so, they rely on each other every day to carry out their mission.
But there’s also a personal bonding and a relationship building that is pretty unique, I think, in any institution and they have a purpose in their lives. It’s a very focused purpose as to why they’re doing what they’re doing, especially at a time since the early ’70s when we’ve had an all-professional military. They have choices. They could go do other things and the quality of these young people and our senior leadership is really pretty amazing, but they choose this profession because there is a purpose and a nobleness that they see in this profession.
ROSE: We owe them a lot and the Veterans Affairs is now — the department is under attack and they have great concern that veterans have not been treated as we as they should, especially in some cases in which some have died.
The President came on yesterday, felt it was such a great concern, he had to address it for the American people. Give me your assessment because you formally were in that department during the Reagan administration.
SEC. HAGEL: Yes.
ROSE: Are we late in coming to this in recognizing that we needed to focus our concern on it?
SEC. HAGEL: Well first, Charlie, I don’t know, I don’t have all the facts. I don’t think we know the facts yet. So I think we do have to be a little careful until the facts are in, until we know exactly what’s happened and what hasn’t happened.
Now, that said, this is — the Veterans Administration is a — is a very large bureaucracy. It has immense responsibilities and I, as you noted, was the deputy administrator for a couple of years in the first Reagan administration, so I know a little something about it. We work closely, the D.O.D. and V.A. on issues. We produce the veterans and we hand them off.
But your question, anytime there is an issue or a problem or a veteran doesn’t get service or certainly, if a veteran dies because he or she doesn’t get service or anytime there is an issue, there is no higher responsibility our country has than to these people who serve and sacrifice. So it’s a constant process of getting better, monitoring, managing, assuring in every way we can that every veteran gets the quality service that they deserve. They — I think the V.A. has around nine million people that they take care of and it’s a — it’s a large department.
But it’s a zero tolerance kind of thing. I mean you really have to come at it that way. We’re all concerned about this, not just because I’m a veteran or the Secretary of Defense, but I think every American…
ROSE: Well, they clearly are. I mean there is great concern about this. There are those who want to do — who do argue that we need to know the facts but we’re late focusing concern about this. We began to hear about this and clearly there are some in your party calling for the head of the Veterans Affairs Department to resign, General Shinseki. Is it premature to ask for his resignation?
SEC. HAGEL: As I support Secretary Shinseki I’ve known him a long time this is an individual who has a responsibility, as he said, to be accountable. The President said yesterday that there has to be accountability. There does have to be accountability right up and down the line.
But I think we’ve got to fix the problem. That’s the real focus here.
ROSE: Answer the questions, fix the problem…
SEC. HAGEL: After we got — after we have the facts. I mean we know things went wrong. I mean there’s no question.
ROSE: Some died.
SEC. HAGEL: That’s exactly right. Why did this happen? How was it allowed to happen? Who’s accountable? Somebody has to be accountable here, like in any institution.
ROSE: Let me move to Ukraine where there is a test. An election coming up.
The Russian and the President of Russia Vladimir Putin said he was going to withdraw troops along the border. Have you seen evidence of that?
SEC. HAGEL: We have seen evidence, preparation for movement of those troops and we have seen just recently some evidence of maybe some minor movement, but nothing significant, nothing that I would yet define as compliant with what President Putin said he was going to do. It’s not at that stage yet.
ROSE: When should it be at that stage?
SEC. HAGEL: Well he said he was doing it now. He said that was occurring now. Now, recognizing you’ve got, we think, at least 40,000 Russian troops on that border, you do have to prepare them to get out, you get them out and so on. But regardless of what’s happening now and he said he was going to do that and they were going to move now, even what we’re seeing now with the small contingent of preparation and some of them starting to move back, they still have tens of thousands of troops there.
And until all those troops are moved away from the border and back where they came from, then they’re not complying with what President Putin said they were doing.
ROSE: Other than economic sanctions, what options does the United States have?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, economic sanctions is one. We continue to use those working with our NATO partners, strengthening our relationships, our forced posture.
ROSE: Of NATO countries?
SEC. HAGEL: Of NATO countries. You know, we’ve made rather significant investment of new forced posturing in the Baltics, Poland, F-16s, F-15s, airborne brigade, so on.
Also other allies are moving more assets around, more assets in the Black Sea, those 28 countries, members of NATO, continue to…
ROSE: Should — should we do the same thing for the Ukrainians?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, this is a tougher issue first because NATO, as you know, is a collective security organization. All 28 members comply with article 5 of that treaty. If one nation is attacked, all nations are attacked. Ukraine is not in that same position. We are helping the Ukrainians. We are complying with many other requests. We are trying to find a diplomatic solution to this. President Obama said there won’t be, can’t be a military solution to this…
ROSE: But we can help them fight, some argue and some in your own former party.
SEC. HAGEL: We can what Charlie?
ROSE: We can arm them, we can provide things if in fact it comes to a conflict between the nationalist forces and the Ukrainian forces that are part of the government there.
SEC. HAGEL: Well, we can, but what we’re trying to do is deescalate, bring those tensions down. The resolution to Ukraine, I don’t believe — President Obama has said this, I think our NATO leaders have said this — is not going to be resolved militarily. I think what Russia is doing here to itself, isolating itself in a very, very dangerous way for its own country, whether it’s economic sanctions or their image around the world. How many countries around the world are supporting what the Russians are doing? Not many. We had a vote last few weeks here at the United Nations on this issue in the general assembly and I don’t know if they got ten votes.
So the long term, they’re losing…
ROSE: But as soon as you say that on the front page of newspapers across the world today is a picture of Xi Jinping, the President of China and the President of Russia having just signed a 30 year deal for Russia to supply energy.
SEC. HAGEL: That’s one country not insignificant country.
ROSE: One big country.
SEC. HAGEL: Not insignificant but I don’t think there’s any question here as to how the world is seeing this naked aggression in the early part of the point…
ROSE: But what is the world prepared to do is the question many people ask? Is it — is Europe, Western Europe prepared to come together and put together a sanctions package that will have real impact? Is it happening?
SEC. HAGEL: It is happening. As a matter of fact, European Union had already sanctioned the Russians and individuals on a number of fronts. The NATO countries are coalescing in a way Charlie I haven’t seen since the implosion to have the Soviet Union in 1989. It is uplifting the collective security commitment to each other. It’s bringing Western Europe together like nothing I’ve seen in recent times.
These are, yes, short-term dynamics but they’re also playing for the longer term as well. The energy deal with China wasn’t a direct result of Ukraine. That deal…
ROSE: No but it does show that they have — the Russians have options in terms of — to combat sanctions.
SEC. HAGEL: Well, they do, if you want to align yourself with a totalitarian government, if that’s where you think your future is on any — on any issue. That’s certainly the Russians’ option. But I think the world is going in a different direction. The world is going toward more freedom, more options, more rights for humans and human beings and more democracy. That’s where the world is going.
ROSE: Do you see, though, the beginning as Medvedev the Prime Minister, the former president said in the last couple of days the beginnings of a new Cold War?
SEC. HAGEL: No, I don’t think we’re seeing the evolution of another Cold War and I’ll tell you one reason why — I think there are many reasons, but one fundamental, the Russian economy, the Chinese economy, the U.S. economy are so interconnected now into an interconnected world. I mean, there is a reliance on a global economic dynamic that if you start to unravel that, any one nation — not that somebody won’t or won’t try — but the consequences of that are severe for any nation, for the Russians or the Chinese.
Now, do we need to be prepared for every option, every eventuality? Absolutely. Who would have guessed six months ago that Putin would have taken this action that he did in Ukraine.
ROSE: Well how about Crimea?
SEC. HAGEL: Yes specifically Crimea.
ROSE: Can we do anything? I mean, that’s gone.
SEC. HAGEL: Well, we don’t accept it. The western nations don’t accept it, but the fact is Russian troops are occupying Crimea now and that’s part of the bigger dynamic here of how does this get resolved in the future.
ROSE: You not only see world leaders you also see some of the best intelligence in the world. What do you think is in Putin’s mind? What is the calculus he’s operating under?
SEC. HAGEL: Mr. Putin has made no secret and he said it publicly on more than one occasion over the years that the demise of the Soviet Union was a terrific mistake, it shouldn’t have happened. it was bad for the Russian people. Now, I think that’s a premise that he truly believes and I think that’s where he starts.
ROSE: But is he prepared to act on it to try to regain all of the…
SEC. HAGEL: Well the actions that he’s taken whether it was…
ROSE: … influence that the Soviet Union had?
SEC. HAGEL: … when you look at his actions in 2008 in Georgia and the actions he’s taken here specifically, as you know, in Crimea, he’s not across the eastern Ukrainian border but, nonetheless, he’s in Crimea. I mean you do have to reflect on that reality and we have to be very clear-eyed about your question, well, what is his end game here, where is he going with this? He has made all those — those former Soviet Socialist Republics — the -stans quite nervous. Kazakhstan all the way across, obviously Moldova, some of the nations that are still connected on that western European edge, everybody is very nervous on what is in his mind.
I think we have to be resolute and firm. The West has to be together clearly on this, whether it’s the E.U., NATO. And that’s what…
ROSE: I’m asking this, too, because there are some — and former Secretary Gates, your predecessor, said to me he was concerned about the West. This was some time ago when Ukraine began to emerge with the focus that we now have, that the Western nations in Europe who have an economic relationship with Russia would have the same commitment that we would.
SEC. HAGEL: This goes back to my point about the Cold War and the interconnects. I mean all those larger Western European nations, in fact all those European nations, have some connection, whether it’s energy, natural gas or some connection to the Russian’s economy and Russia to their economy.
But remember this is a two-way street. There are consequences both ways on this, too and I think President Putin has got a pretty clear understanding of that. But Secretary Gates’ question is a very legitimate question. It’s something that I talk about when I meet with my NATO colleagues, it’s something that my predecessors — Panetta, Gates, Rumsfeld all talked about, the Western European nations are going to have to do more in their commitment to their own defense, that means collective security in NATO. Some are.
And so yes it’s a — but what’s happened here, back to my point, Charlie on the Russian actions in Ukraine has been in Churchill’s immortal words “the jarring gong of an awakening” here I think that is starting to at least focus these European nations a bit more on continuing to cut their budgets in defense. Now I know we’ve got that issue, too.
But this is a reality that they’re going to have to deal with, and it’s just not new. Gates and others have been talking about it for a long time.
ROSE: Let me take you to Syria as well. Where are we? Are we looking at a stalemate that will continue the way it is now or is this something the United States can do that has not been doing that will make the circumstances on the ground different?
SEC. HAGEL: Let’s just briefly examine the complications of this. In Syria today, you have a sectarian war going on, you have a civil war going on, you have Islamic extremist terrorists in different varieties in there. You’ve got the Iranians sponsoring Hezbollah in there. You’ve got a number of dynamics in play, plus opposition forces — opposition forces against Assad aren’t all on the same page that we’re on. The moderate opposition which we support which we’re trying to help, working with our allies in Jordan and Turkey. Working with the GCC countries I just came back two weeks ago from bringing all the GCC defense ministers together for a conference in Saudi Arabia, stopped in Jordan and Israel, Syria was the main topic. But…
ROSE: And what was the assessment?
SEC. HAGEL: Well the assessment is everyone has this issue at the top of their agenda. Now, there may be variations as to why. But this extremism, this sectarian war, Sunni versus Shia, which cuts into the western part of Iraq and the humanitarian piece of this that Jordan is taking the brunt of and we’re helping more than anybody is, is all part of it. They understand the dangers of this. They understand that this cannot get resolved just by some military — simple military solution.
So what we’re trying to do is — to your question — continue to do, work with our partners, work with the neighbors, work with the structures that we have, support the moderate opposition, keep focused on helping the humanitarian crisis, which I think we’re at about $1.8 billion for the victims of this.
As President Obama said, there’s not going to be a military solution that we can dictate in there. And I think one of the things that has happened that’s significant is that we have been able, working with the Russians and others and our western allies, to get now at least 90 percent of the precursors of chemical weapons out of Syria. We’ve got about eight percent left. We’re making progress on that. There are security issues.
But if we can get all of that moved out of there — and we’re doing a pretty good job now — that is a tremendous accomplishment on where we were on this a year ago. Still big problems I don’t think this is going to be resolved anytime soon.
But I don’t think, as the President said, the United States tried to interject itself in a military way, that will only make it worse.
ROSE: Just tell me how you feel about the relationship with Israel today and how do they feel about the relationship? Because people are always trying to draw division.
SEC. HAGEL: Yes.
ROSE: In between some animosity between the President and the Prime Minister.
SEC. HAGEL: Well first of all, you know personalities do matter in relationships and they’re not insignificant, but the national interests of a nation overrides personalities or any difference in styles. So I say that in response to any issues that — between leaders on personalities. That’s just part of the static out there and it’s always a good churn for some reporters who like to go in that direction. But let’s look at the bigger issue…
ROSE: In the end everybody acts in the national interest.
SEC. HAGEL: Exactly right. Let’s look at the bigger issues and answer your question, it is my opinion that our military-to-military relationship our overall relationship the United States and Israel is as good and as firm and as committed as ever been. I was told that by the way by Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as their Defense Minister Ya’alon whom I’ve gotten to know very, very well. We talk to each other a lot on the phone, we see each other it’s very close, our military-to-military.
Our commitments to Israel’s security are the most significant in dollar terms they have ever been. We’re working very closely with them on a lot of areas.
Now, are there differences?
SEC. HAGEL: Sure there are differences, but every nation has differences.
ROSE: Speak to the differences of Iran.
SEC. HAGEL: That’s an area where I think we’re coming together. Prime Minister Netanyahu and I had a good conversation about that as did Defense Minister Ya’alon and other leaders. I’ve met with President Peres. They have always been very skeptical the Israelis as you know of this six-month effort to try to — the P5+1 to find some diplomatic resolution of the first step of the nuclear.
Now, there are other issues that we’re going to have to address — the missile capacity that the Iranians have, their state sponsorship of terrorism — but we’re focused on nuclear now. I think the Israelis have — they still don’t — I don’t think agreed totally with what our approach is.
But they’ve given us, for them, an allowance here to try to produce some kind of way out of this, which we talked about this and I think that’s…
ROSE: What’s the way out?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, if we can find, in this six-month period and it doesn’t go on forever.
ROSE: To July?
SEC. HAGEL: I think July is when that time frame is up. If we can find an agreement with P5 plus 1 with the Iranians to accomplish all the things that from our side that we need to accomplish — and this is a two-way street, the Iranians I know have something to say about this, too — but if we can get in and accomplish what we need to continue to deepen and widen the reality, what President Obama has said, that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon, if we can accomplish that without military action from the Israelis or anybody else, aren’t we smarter to do that and then build on the next step, all right the next issue maybe being missile ballistic missile…
ROSE: Do they have the missile capability today to deliver nuclear weapons?
SEC. HAGEL: They have very sophisticated missile defense capability and not just defense but missile — offensive missile capability.
ROSE: So they could deliver it if they had it?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think that they — they had a situation where they could probably put that together if they need to.
ROSE: I once asked Leon Panetta, one of your predecessors and he said he doesn’t think they’ve made a commitment to build a nuclear weapon. What do they — what is their commitment to do?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I don’t know I can give you what — at least my assessment based on intelligence and so on, but I think their leadership has been very clear over the years to certainly have the capability to build nuclear weapons.
ROSE: To break out capability.
SEC. HAGEL: That’s right.
ROSE: So in a short amount of time?
SEC. HAGEL: In a short amount of time. I think that certainly is there. Now, has a decision been made by the ayatollah and the other leaders in Iran that we are — we are committed to produce a nuclear weapon? I don’t know.
But we can’t take that chance. This is a zero-sum game on that. We’re not going to take a chance.
ROSE: Is it possible, though, that — that they could pass an Israeli red line, which is before they get to an American red line, in terms of where they have gotten to that place? Will the Israelis feel compelled to act ahead of the United States if they felt they were intent on having a nuclear weapon and the United States did not believe they were at the same place would the Israelis act because they do not want to be dependent on someone else?
SEC. HAGEL: I can’t speak for the Israelis nor can I speak for any country, but I would answer your question this way: the Israelis and the U.S. are very tightly closely coordinated on intelligence on this and there is very little that we disagree on, on most of this.
ROSE: In terms of where they are? In terms of…
SEC. HAGEL: Yes.
ROSE: What do you make — what do you make of the ayatollah when he says, look, it’s against your religion to have a nuclear weapon?
SEC. HAGEL: Well…
ROSE: You say you can’t go to bed on that?
SEC. HAGEL: I appreciate him saying that, but every indication that we’ve seen is that that doesn’t connect necessarily with where their military has been going on this.
I hope the ayatollah believes that and again I can only base my analysis and judgment as secretary of defense, certainly, who has the responsibility of the security of this country, based on their actions, not their words.
ROSE: Yes but the President of Iran seems to be optimistic. I mean he seems to think we’ll make a deal. Is that your impression that they are optimistic and they think we’re making progress.
SEC. HAGEL: My assessment is that they think it’s possible. They have been saying some positive things about the possibility if we can get there. We’re working very hard on this. Secretary Kerry and the Under Secretary who is leading the effort on this, Wendy Sherman, have been working very hard. Our government is completely committed to try to do this, the President of the United States.
Obviously, we all do with our P5 partners. And we’ll see. I think we’ll know a lot more, Charlie at the end of July.
ROSE: Before I leave the Middle East and that part of it, Syria, Secretary Kerry says he’s seen evidence — raw evidence of chlorine gas being used. Have you seen raw evidence of chlorine gas being used by the Syrians against their own people?
SEC. HAGEL: As you know the OPCW is in there now intensely looking at all those charges and all those specific references to what was used, if it was used, where it was used and so on.
So none of that, as that I’ve seen, is verifiable yet. Until we get those reports back, I don’t think we’ll be able to know, verifiably that in fact it was used and what was used.
ROSE: Afghanistan, they have an election taking place there. It looks like they may have a president of Afghanistan who is in favor of the United States troops remaining, which is very different from what Karzai was prepared to say. Is that essential for us to have troops that remain?
SEC. HAGEL: It is essential to us in order for us to keep troops there. I think the American public would demand that. Certainly the Congress would demand it. President Obama has made it very clear that that’s essential to us having the United States and by the way, our NATO and international partners having a post-2014 presence. And I think we have a presence there, should have a presence there. I think we could continue to help train assisted advice, counterterrorism.
Both of the two candidates as you have noted Abdullah Abdullah and Ghani said they would sign it. We know both of those gentlemen well. We’ve worked with them in their past in their past positions. We would want to work with them. We’ve had a good track record with them. So I believe that whoever wins will sign that and we are planning.
ROSE: What is your assessment of terrorism and the terrorist threat today? I say that in the context of we saw real success with respect to al Qaeda, the al Qaeda that we got to know that was led by Osama bin Laden. We now look around the world and we see a resurgence of al Qaeda-affiliated groups, whether it’s Yemen, whether it’s other parts of Africa, even Boko Haram claims some relationship.
What’s the terrorist threat today and what is our policy to defeat it?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, let’s start with the overall question of what is terrorism, where is it. There’s no question that terrorists groups that have been — are now affiliated with al Qaeda continue to widen into areas — North Africa being a very clear example and some of the Middle Eastern country that have weak, unstable governments, no way to defend themselves with weak militaries, where you have religious conflict. I mean, these are all areas that are well suited to extremists, Islamic extremists groups, and you mentioned some of them. There are more. There are wide — what’s going on in Yemen, what’s going on in Libya. And so…
ROSE: And what’s going on in Syria.
SEC. HAGEL: And what’s going on in Syria; and, of course, the North African countries. We’re working with allies and others, western European nations as well as African governments, to help them. This is not one monolithic challenge where we can identify one monolithic enemy. There are variations of these various terrorist groups. You mentioned Syria as an example, which we have. It is.
Some of those groups in there are supporting Assad. Others are not. Others are fighting for different reasons. Some are fighting for political reasons. Some are fighting for religious reasons. So there’s no cookie-cutter approach to it except this: development of strong capacities in our partners.
This is something President Obama’s talked about the day he got into the White House. It’s what we’re doing in the Pentagon, building — helping build capacity of our partners. We can’t fix every problem in the world, the United States alone.
ROSE: The President says we’re not the world’s policemen.
SEC. HAGEL: We’re not the world’s police, we can’t be. We have to rely on the governments in place in those areas and their capability — their capacities to deal with these problems. We’ll help them. We’re doing this in many countries, whether it’s intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, whatever way we can do that, we are. But we can’t field the armies all over the world.
ROSE: But are they growing? They are growing. All you need to do is look at what’s going on in North Africa.
ROSE: And is there a threat that those that are in Syria, where they’re learning how to fight in a different kind of conflict, may take that back to their home regions including the United States?
SEC. HAGEL: Yes, it’s a threat. It’s certainly a clear and present threat to southern Europe — Italy, Spain as you move up from the Mediterranean up into Europe. Those are real-time threats right now, but it’s certainly a threat, the training ground in Syria that we know, a lot of these groups are training there. Individuals going to Syria to get training — terrorist training — and they learn. They then take that back to their home countries.
So it’s something we watch very carefully, Homeland Security, F.B.I., law enforcement, we do monitoring, all our inner agencies.
ROSE: The world’s attention is focused on 200 children abducted who were abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria. We don’t even know where they are, although you may know where they are. What is the United States doing and what are we going to be able to do to bring those children back?
SEC. HAGEL: President Obama said we, the United States, are going to do everything we possibly can to help.
ROSE: And what does that mean?
SEC. HAGEL: And I’m going to explain that. Let’s start there.
Second, let’s understand the reality of Nigeria. All those nations are sovereign nations. We can’t just parachute in — well, I suppose we could…
ROSE: Yes. We have the ability but not…
SEC. HAGEL: I’m not sure we would want to.
ROSE: … necessarily an invasion of sovereignty is what we want to do.
SEC. HAGEL: That’s right. So you have to work with the governments. You have to be invited in to help them. We are working closely with the Nigerians and the things that we’re doing. We sent about ten days ago a team of about 18 military people into Nigeria to work with the government, with their military, with their law enforcement to advise them, assess what’s going on, assess where we can immediately help them. Since that time, we are flying manned and unmanned intelligence surveillance reconnaissance, drones — unarmed drones.
We’re now sharing intelligence with the Nigerians. You know that we just recently a day or two ago announced that we’re putting 80 people in Chad.
ROSE: Right, right, right.
SEC. HAGEL: These are not boots on the ground people but these are support people for drones, aircraft, to assist the Nigerians in finding those girls. Now, our 80 troops are armed because of their own self-defense and defending our assets there. But President Obama’s made it very clear we’re not going to send boots on the ground. But every one of those areas where we’re helping — and by the way, the Canadians are helping, the French, the British — bringing in partners.
ROSE: With all that, why can’t we find them?
SEC. HAGEL: I don’t know how many times you have been to Nigeria or that part of the world, but it is an immense part of the world. The canopy in those jungles are as thick as anywhere in the world. These are almost boundless areas, almost borderless, although there are borders, but there are about five countries in there in that area. Now, northern Nigeria is where those girls were abducted from and where they initially were. They may be, some of those girls, in other countries. We don’t know.
ROSE: you have no information as to where they are?
SEC. HAGEL: We have information but we don’t have any solid evidence pinpointing exactly where…
ROSE: If we did, we would go get them?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, “we” go get them…
ROSE: Well, with the Nigerians’ request.
SEC. HAGEL: We would do everything we could, as President Obama said, to facilitate helping the Nigerians as we are helping them locate them and then figuring out what is the quickest, easiest, fastest way, lowest-risk to get them out, and then helping to facilitate the Nigerians, if they’re in Nigeria, getting them out.
ROSE: China has been in the news recently. The Justice Department has indicted some Chinese individuals for hacking. What is China doing to retaliate and is this going to escalate?
SEC. HAGEL: I think you start with that episode that you just noted. This was a law enforcement issue. This has been, particularly the indictment of these individuals, is an indictment of blatant corporate espionage, just straight up.
ROSE: Spying on American corporations.
SEC. HAGEL: And stealing corporate secrets, intelligence.
ROSE: And providing them back to their own competitive forces at home.
SEC. HAGEL: Clearly.
ROSE: This is done by — these hackers work for the P.L.A.?
SEC. HAGEL: They’re connected in the P.L.A. and some of the individuals that were indicted are members of the P.L.A. So we support that as the Defense Department is a military.
ROSE: How did they retaliate?
SEC. HAGEL: Again, I would answer this way, too. The Chinese and the United States are clearly interconnected into so many common interests economically, in many ways other than just economically. We have cooperative relationships. We have competitive relationship. As far as I know, we’ve seen no direct consequence of those indictments.
Now, they demarched our ambassador in China.
SEC. HAGEL: They’ve made it very clear that they think this is wrong. They’re very upset about it.
ROSE: And do they also say we happen to know a fellow by the name of Edward Snowden, and we know what you do, according to him. And I know you say that you do not spy on Chinese corporations in order to give information to American corporations but you get the clear impression from Mr. Snowden that the NSA has surveiled almost everything in sight, and the Chinese I’m told bring that up every moment.
SEC. HAGEL: They do, but this is one of the distinctions I wanted to draw at the beginning. The defense capability of any nation includes intelligence — so surprise, surprise. The Chinese are looking at us, we’re looking at the Chinese, and I would think the American people want us — I know the Congress does — to make damn sure we know what’s going on or as much as we can get to know what’s going with the Chinese and Russians and others. So that’s a different kind of a situation.
I know with the Chinese — I talked to President Xi about this and I brought it up as President Obama did with President Xi last year in California more than once about the cyber issues and about the intelligence…
ROSE: And so what does he say? What do the Chinese say? Look, we both live in this world, we both are connected economically, we both want to trade with each other, we both have the well being of our own people as a primary interest. So what does he say about the conflict between the two countries, which was exemplified by this cyber-espionage in one instance?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think you take one slice of the relationship as you just used as an example, but I think President Xi and the Chinese get the larger context of the relationship. There are certain things they don’t like, certain things we don’t like and we bring it to their attention, they bring things to our attention. But the way to resolve those disputes is a smart way to resolve them.
East China Sea, South China Sea — this is the whole point behind institutions of common interests that were built after World War II. Rather than going to war with each other which we did up until after World War II to resolve disputes and some of that’s still going on and has been — let’s be smarter, let’s resolve it in different ways with international law and forums and so on. So we’re going to have differences with them, but clearly our economic interests are so much in tune and consequences on both sides. I think the Chinese understand that. But I think our role has to continue to be, especially for our allies, to reassure our allies that we remain resolute and firm and steady.
ROSE: I think it was Secretary Gates who said I don’t think I’d want to be Secretary of Defense, understanding the limitations.
Are we unable to play the role we did in the past maybe because there’s an inclination of the American people not to want to be the world’s policeman, but also because we don’t have the resources to do it?
SEC. HAGEL: I would answer it two ways. One is, on the budget itself, the most irresponsible, mindless actions that I have seen since I have been in Washington, 12 years in the Senate, in and out, is this sequestration, deferral of responsibility — completely irresponsible. If that continues, as it is the law of the land, by the way, into F.Y. ’16 and beyond, then it will, no question, cut in to the capabilities that America has to, in fact, carry out its defense strategic guidance. There’s no question about that.
Now, that said, let me take another piece of this. The United States of America’s military is still, by far, the strongest military in the world. There’s no one even in our universe on capability, capacity, readiness, weapons, money being spent, any metric you apply to it. That may not always be the case unless we’re willing to continue to do the things that we need to do; also, capacity and capability. You know, I hear different arguments about, well, if we draw down our army to a certain number, that will be the lowest since World War II.
Now, come on, does anybody equate the capacity capability of our army in 1940 to that of 2014? Not because the men and women serving today versus the men and women serving in 2014 — or 1940 were better people, but the capacity, the technological edge of our army and our services today is light years beyond that. So capability matters. Capacity does, too. I get that. Numbers do, too. Into the near future, we’re going to continue to be able to fulfill.
ROSE: But you are worried about what?
SEC. HAGEL: I’m worried about the future. My responsibility, any leader’s responsibility of enterprise, any enterprise is to build the enterprise of the future, not go back and carry on with or hang on to weapons of 40 years ago or 30 years ago or fight yesterday’s war.
ROSE: And the future is a couple of years from now?
SEC. HAGEL: It is.
ROSE: You’re saying if we don’t deal with this issue of how we pay for the necessities of our defense establishment, we will no longer be the same kind of power we were.
SEC. HAGEL: We will eventually erode our readiness, our modernization and eventually our capabilities. These things, by the way don’t happen in just one-year intervals. Weapons platforms in thinking into the future, these are years and years out. But what I’m saying is, for the future, if we don’t get this sequestration turned around and giving the Pentagon and our leaders the capacity and the flexibility to make the priority charges, which Congress so far has been unwilling to do — they want to continue to cut the budget, which they’ve done, but also not give us the flexibility to make the tough choices and prioritize, then we’re going to be about the narrow partisan, parochial, political interests of members of Congress only and not about the national security of this country.
ROSE: Here is — you wrote a speech in Chicago which I want to just quote from, in fact. You talked about the fact that “We’re entering a military zone and going into historic transition — transition from protracted wars in the Middle East and central Asia which, clearly, if you look at the recent polls included, Americans are tired of war. Ten years in Afghanistan, the toll that it took in Iraq, and especially in terms of the sacrifice of young men and women, they seem to be saying, you know, let’s focus on America.”
And the President, I think, has spoken to that as well and that’s part of his own operative philosophy and that was what he was committed to do when he was elected as president, to withdraw from two wars. “What are we prepared to fight for” was the cover of an “Economist” magazine two weeks ago? What are we prepared to fight for?
SEC. HAGEL: We are prepared to fight for the interests of our country. Now, when you say — or you question economists or any other publication or individual, what are we prepared to fight for, does that equate to going back in another 13 years of war? There are variations of that question. The things that we’re doing today, Charlie, certainly are not complying at all with some of the narrative out there that somehow we’re retreating from the world.
The United States military, for example, is in almost 100 countries around the world. We have almost 400,000 military men and women deployed and stationed abroad. We are everywhere. We are connected into everything. Our economic strength and our trade relationship, any measurement you put to where we are, what we’re willing to fight for and invest in and what we’re doing, we’re doing that now.
Our interests are clear. We will defend those interests. We will work with our allies, our partners and, as I said, the capacity building, capability building that we’re doing now, as I’ve already mentioned, I was in the Middle East last week bringing our GCC defense minister partners as well as our ASEAN defense minister partners a month ago. These are the kind of things we’re doing.
ROSE: Are they saying — as some of these articles point out that after the red line in Syria was passed, that there’s a questioning of America’s will. When you talk to the people from Saudi Arabia, the king; when you talk to people from the Emirates, do you hear that and do you have to reassure them?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, yes, I have to reassure them, but I don’t think that’s anything unusual. This is a dangerous, complicated world. If you’re a little country sitting out there and you’ve got Iran next to you or China…
ROSE: And Iran is a thing they worry about.
SEC. HAGEL: Yes, they need reassurance, absolutely, and we need to give them that reassurance. In the Middle East, specifically, you mentioned two countries in the Persian Gulf. I reminded our GCC defense minister partners when I was there we have over 35,000 military personnel stationed in the Persian Gulf in the Middle East. We have the headquarters of the Fifth Fleet that’s in Bahrain.
SEC. HAGEL: We have CENTCOM headquarters in Qatar. So the problems don’t…
ROSE: We have a military presence in the region.
SEC. HAGEL: Huge military, plus in the Persian Gulf, plus the most advanced tactical platforms whether they’re Navy or Air Force in the area — Egypt and Syria. Those are sovereign nations, Charlie. The United States can’t dictate outcomes of what comes out — what the people of Egypt want or decide or anywhere else. We want to continue to try to have as much influence…
ROSE: So it’s up to them if they elect Morsi. It’s up to them if they throw out Morsi. It’s up to them, and we just stand by?
SEC. HAGEL: We don’t just stand by, but we can’t control. You can’t control a nation of 90 million people. But I…
ROSE: I don’t think anybody expects us to control. But they do expect us to have some influence because as you just said we have influence in the region and consequences.
SEC. HAGEL: We have influence, but any influence with any nation has limitations to it. If a nation — as we have already talked about — thinks in their interest, this is the thing that they’ve got to do or enough people in that nation, now, we can try to influence it. We can try to do what we can to adjust based on values, principles, standards, rule of law — we do all the time, whether Egypt or wherever it is — yes, we try to use every influence we can working with our partners.
ROSE: Within the restrictions that you have to face every day — a different world, a changing world, different budgetary demands — what’s the strategy? What’s the vision? What do I take from that Chicago speech which people do as a kind of a definition of how you, certainly, and the administration look at the U.S. and the world?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, I’ve said more than once in that speech, the world must continue to be part of our agenda. America must stay engaged in the world.
I used some quotes in there — on what? President Obama has made that very clear, we will continue to stay engaged, to be a leader, to work with our partners, to frame up these coalitions of cooperation, mutual interests, capacity-building for our partners, what we’re doing — what I was doing in Asia four weeks ago when I brought all the ASEAN defense ministers together. That’s never been done before.
We’re doing things right now, by the way, big exercises all over the world, whether it’s Europe or it’s the Middle East. Our future is the world. We’re connected into the future. We’re not retreating from the future. We’re engaging in the world. And President Obama has been very clear on this. Secretary Kerry has been very clear. This speech I gave in Chicago that’s where…
ROSE: But we’re prepared to fight a different kind of war it seems like to me, with much more use of special operations, much more use of drones and technology. The nature of warfare itself is changing.
SEC. HAGEL: It’s shifting in ways and dimensions that are unprecedented — cyber, space, that’s the real dangerous next generation of big-time potential conflicts.
ROSE: The conflict will be in cyber, in space?
SEC. HAGEL: It’s already, what others are doing in cyber right now — the Chinese, Iranians, Russians, others — to militarize some of this space. So what I said earlier about building an institution, my responsibility as Secretary of Defense, I have to project out into the future, what are those threats and challenges coming so for my successors and the next generation of military leaders, will they have the capacity, capability, the platforms, technology, the science, the investment, the research they need to deal with what’s coming?
Now we’re going to need a navy, absolutely, quality and capacity second to none. We’re going to need a standing army, of course. Special operations, cyber intelligence, these are areas where I ask for more money in our budget. The President wanted more money for the very reasons I just noted.
Yes, unprecedented change in the world. It’s not just in challenges, but also opportunities — economic. What technology has done and is doing is also doing something else, Charlie, it’s essentially putting all countries and all leaders in a situation where there is very little margin of error. You don’t have the room, if you make a little mistake over here to come back and recalibrate. It’s too fast. It’s too immediate.
I told the President once, “Mr. President, we may not get everything right but we have to get the big things right.”
ROSE: And the big things are?
SEC. HAGEL: The big things are the things that we’ve talked about and all the big issues coming at us. But we can’t be so consumed with the immediate and short-term we lose sight of the long term.
ROSE: Thank you very much.
SEC. HAGEL: Charlie, thank you.
ROSE: Pleasure to see you.
SEC. HAGEL: Good to see you again. Appreciate it.
ROSE: A conversation with the secretary of defense.
Thank you for joining us. See you next time.