Press Gaggle by Secretary Mattis En Route to Brasilia

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  OK, so we'll talk on the record for a few minutes, but first of all, thank you for coming.  I realize that you lose at least half your weekend, and perhaps more as you're getting yesterday and all of that.  I appreciate your coming out.

So you know we're on our way south.  Yep their plane is going south, right direction.  That's always heartening.

We will charge you extra for the buffeting.  We charge extra when we get bounced around a bit, so like a rodeo, you know. (Laughter.)

But we're on our way to Brasilia, which will be our first stop in a Latin America trip.  Be back in a week.  

And we'll go through Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia, and then back in, stopping -- and, by the way, I'll also be in Rio de Janeiro, two stops from Brazil, so I can speak to their college, their work college, military college, Buenos Aires, Santiago, and of course Bogota.

The administration, as you know, has set out, when it came in, the strength and the relations with our neighbors to the south.  And inside the military real that means partnerships.  We have a lot of partnerships that go back many years.

And as you know, our vice president was down in the region, down meaning south in the region in June.  And chief of Naval operations was down here in July.  

A lot of other things going on though, that just go on constantly.  For example, involvement of some of the nations in the RIMPAC operation, things like this.  The goal remains to be a partner with the other militaries in the region.  We're very up front, very transparent, nothing hidden.  It's public.  The reasons you're all -- well, I'm happy to have you here.

We are looking to expand partnerships where it's mutual beneficial. No hesitation at all.  We see Latin America as our neighbor.  Some people say we don't pay much attention to it.  That is certainly is not the case in the military.  You don't see large military formations down there because the nature of our relationship doesn't require that, and we work together across a wide number of issues, and military is simply one of many, certainly not the predominant area.  It's mostly diplomatic, or economic even, but certainly mil to mil.  Part of being partners, part of being neighbors is transparency.

So we share a great culturally even in this very diverse Western Hemisphere.  And most of all we share values.

I would just say that, in my words, it would be the areas of convergence with most of the nations down there, the democracies for example, far outnumber any areas of divergence, which are generally much lower-level issues, cultural issues, the normal things, and they're not really operate.  I mean, how the nations=do their own business is not an area for the military when we find a divergence.  

A lot of the military works with and for the elected civilian leadership of a country, then we work with them.  

We do look for respect for fundamental human rights.  And in the countries we're visiting, almost all of them -- that we're visiting all of them, and most of the countries to our south have got respect for those human rights through the rule of law, and for peaceful relations among neighbors.

Not all of them have that.  One of the reasons I'm going down is to make sure that those that are democracies, that believe in those fundamental rights also know they have a partner military to military in the United States.  

Let me talk about Brazil in particular.  And again, what we'll try to do, and I think we have, is try and between each stop, Brasilia to Rio maybe a little challenge, but between each country talk about each country as we're going in.  Plus we'll talk a little bit during those discussions here in the cabin about what we did coming out of the countries, if you have more questions coming out.

But with Brazil, our first stop is a valued strategic partner. We're going to do -- down there I want to seek some insights from their leadership on a range of interests.  For example, combating transnational threats to peace, their approach to peacekeeping, the security challenges we face in the hemisphere to peace and the well-being of our people.  I think you're very much aware if you're on this trip what some of those might be.  

And I'll go wherever the leadership wants to go.  I'm going down to do a lot of listening.  

Brazil and the United States share a long history in the defense realm, cooperation.  This year -- this month actually marks 76 years since Brazil entered World War II, and they entered on the side of the United Nations to fight fascism.  Brazil's navy protected Allied convoys from U-boats in the Atlantic.  They provided key airfields in the linkage that kept the British army in North Africa and the Russian military going through the southern line of communication alive during World War II.  And Brazil was critical for that. It would not have happened without Brazil's support.  It's a matter of physics.

Further, the Americans 10th Mountain Division fought alongside the Brazilian division in the mountains of Italy, and I'll just note that that was some of the toughest fighting in the European theater of operations.  Got a reputation for that.  The U.S. military would study the fighting at Monte Cassino, at Montecastelli, this was very, very tough fighting, and the Brazilians were right there in the mix of it.  And between militaries we don't forget things like that. It's something that we remember and respect.  

And it's on those kind of things we build the longer-term relationship.  The 1st Fighter Squadron of the Brazilian Air Force flew P-47’s. They were integrated, not separate; they were integrated right inside the 12th Air Force, the U.S. 12th Air Force, during the war.

So there's a history that goes back, doesn't start with this trip, doesn't start with this administration, doesn't start in the last 10 years; this goes back many decades.  And so this visit is an opportunity to build on that proud history.

Brazil is and will be a global leader, and we seek to restore closer ties with the Brazilian military.  I'll speak to the Brazilian War College, military war college in Escola Superior de Guerra, and that's in Rio, De Janeiro.  

And lastly, I'll just note that Brazil and the United States are the hemisphere's two largest democracies.  And in that regard, their lines of convergence cannot change.  That is something we will build on.  It exists today.  It will exist tomorrow.  And between the two largest democracies in the western hemisphere, we have a lot to build on.

What small issues may come up between the nations, it always (inaudible) politically, diplomatically, economically, I just say, military to military we very much see the world the same way based on my study, my preparations this trip.

Brazil also plays -- I'd say their example plays a critical role in maintaining regional security and opposing any kind of undemocratic and destabilizing maxims.

I would point to Venezuela as an example. Brazil's an example.  Like all democracies, sometimes they're very raucous, like our own right now, but the bottom line is, that's what a democracy is.  That's how people get their voice heard.  And it's a system that listens to its people in Brazil, vice the Cuban or Venezuelan model that penalizes people for speaking out.

And so for going down there now, I said earlier I'm going to do a lot of listening.  The U.S. military, we see mil-to-mil relationships.  Always it's a two-way street.  

And again, for those of you who have been out here before, you know I've said it, I've had the privilege of fighting many times for America; I have never fought in an all-American formation.  I have always fought alongside allies.  And the total is upward somewhere around 70 different nations I fought alongside, so I don't draw lines in terms of where we're willing to partner.

With democracy, professional military, there's good relations and shared values on democracy.  We have a lot of (inaudible).

So while don't I stop there at the prepared remarks and go to your Q&A here.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, I'm sure that (inaudible), but I would ask you just since the first time I've seen you since the vice president made his speech at the Pentagon on the Space Force.  I wanted to ask you a question about that.  Differentiate in between the things you announced you're going to do with the Space Development Agency and Space Operations Forces, Space Command on the one hand?

And then the question that's going to be before Congress about creating a separate for space?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.

Q:  You previously said you did not think that was a good idea.  Can you tell us what your view on that is now, (inaudible) changed?

SEC. MATTIS:  On the space -- thanks for your question, Bob.  And I'll do a little round the world kind of (inaudible).

On the Space Force, from our earliest days, President Trump, Vice President Pence and I literally, in my first month, this was a partner discussion on how do we organize for space?  We are trying to define every challenge, and then (inaudible), what is the best solution for that? 

I was not going against setting up a Space Force; what I was against was rushing to do that before we define those problems.  We've had a year, over a year in defining.  And the orbitization of this solution in terms of institutionalizing forward momentum is very important.

We are going to have to face it, because as you pointed out, there are some things Congress needs to do.  But there are things we can move out on immediately.  Actually we already have been, and all this does is give that an emphasis, and give us added support from above that we then take full advantage of, in terms of funding organization, and re-organizing so that we have more -- I would call it more cohesion.  

And you see this in other areas too, just to show this is not a standalone effort.  Look what we've done (inaudible) artificial intelligence (inaudible), where we pull everybody's efforts together.  So it's the same sort of thing.

Now some things, if I were to say we're not going to do anything until we've got the new Space Force set up, we would just waste time.

The president immediately phasing of the (inaudible) immediately, as we already are.  We're, as a matter of fact, in a second tranche of changes already, and we've seen some of them over the months preceding.

So as we go forward, we'll get this re-organization as far as we can take it, based on solving, developing and define the problem and then they'll go to the Congress.  Well, actually we're already going to the Congress.  We've got to work up what the actual organization looks like. You know what, that will take longer, so the normal legislative process at that point. 

And we have the White House's support on this. 

Q:  Just to clear, if we're talking about the separate service, military (inaudible)...

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.

Q: You're in favor (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  We're in favor of warfighting capability organized along the lines of what the president has laid out, along those lines.

Now as we go forward, of course they'll organize it for efficiency and make sure it's fit for purpose.  And we'll be doing that in close collaboration with the president, and principally the vice president, who President Trump has put in, basically in charge of the political (inaudible) side of it.

But this is very much a collaborative effort. And in there was the vice president said last Friday in the Pentagon that we hadn't already -- Thursday (inaudible).

When was (inaudible)?

STAFF:  Thursday.

SEC. MATTIS:  Thursday, yes.  Days run together.

So not one word that we hadn't already seen in that speech, and made certain that our space report, which can only take us so far.  We can't things that require legislation.  But (inaudible) very much (inaudible) right now.

Q:  I ask this only because -- sorry, (inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS:  No, that's OK.

Q:  People believed that you thought it was a bad idea, training a separate service, setting aside the other (inaudible)...

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, I know.  What I've always said is we have to define the problem of setting out (inaudible), and you'll find this in everything you do in the Pentagon. I've even used Einstein's quote, if asked how he would save the world, how would be compose his thoughts.  He said, "I'd spent 55" -- he had only one hour to save the world -- he said, "I'd spent 55 minutes defining the problem, and solve the problem in five minutes."

So we have had to do a lot of work defining the problem.  It has to do with 10, 20 years in the future, where do we want to be?  What is our economic dependence on space?  What is our intelligence?  What do have to do if we have to make it defensible, and (inaudible) satellites, the mine environment.  

I know it sounds like it should be done in time, so it's 30 minutes with time out for commercials; it doesn't work that way.  It take a lot of time.

Q:  (off mic)

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes?

Q:  Going back to the (inaudible), (inaudible).  And then you talked about (inaudible) and how military that can (inaudible) to an economy and diplomatically.  And I was just wondering, one thing that wasn't mentioned in your (inaudible) Russia and China is, quote, "infamous" in the region.  So have you seen that?  And has that affected the military bond?  And how do you counter that?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, have we seen China and Russia at the -- inside Latin America?  You know, you go back a couple hundred years, and you see external powers trying to operate in North America and South America.  You know, I thought about a shared history.  We know what it's like, too. We've been through that ourselves.

We have go through many difficult periods between our nations, among our nations, and there's more than one way to lose sovereignty in this world; it's not just by bayonets.  It can also be by countries that come in bearings gifts and large loans and things like we have seen in other parts of the word, that Prime Minister Modi of India talks about piling massive debt on countries, knowing they will not be able to repay it, or large projects where people don't get -- the locals don't get the jobs for them. Other countries bring in their own workers.  And then they lose political sovereignty in that (inaudible).

We want free and independent democratic countries in our hemisphere.  We believe that's what every country deserves, is their own 
decision-making.  We do not believe that other countries should have vetoes.

But as far as my trip, as far as my relations with my colleagues who I talked with on the phone, have come to see me, we have had zero impact by any Russian or Chinese involvement in the region, none whatsoever.  The trust has been a long time building, and that trust will not be shaken.

Q:  Would you say stronger than (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  Pardon?

Q: Would you go as far to say stronger than ever (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  In terms of our relationship?

Q:  (off mic)

SEC. MATTIS:  I don't want to say it's stronger than ever, just because I'd want to through each and its own relationship.  Like I would say the trust between us and Venezuela is probably weaker than ever.

But as far as countries like Brazil, you know, no doubt there is a strong degree of trust between our militaries.  We have transparency.  We -- we do not see each other as competitors; we see each other as partners.

Q:  Just to follow up (inaudible)...

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, sure.

Q:  (Inaudible) particularly that the U.S. is particularly worried that while the (inaudible) China is (inaudible)...

SEC. MATTIS:  (Inaudible) how do we show the U.S. is (inaudible)?

Q:  I heard that China is building in the south (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  One of the reasons I want to go down and listen is I want to hear how other nations view the world.  We know how they view narcotics traffickers.  We know that.  And so we'll be there.  It's on an issue we know where each other stands; how we can help each other?  OK.

On other issues, I need to hear from them first how they view relations with other nations outside the region.

And so I'm going to start by doing a lot of listening to understand where they're at on it before I start pronouncing there.

The way I go about doing things is I listen, then I learn, and we look (inaudible) for where we can help people, and then we'll lead, where it's a two-way street, and leading by the United States is helpful.

But I have not problems allowing other nations to lead.  I want to listen to them and learn first where they're at, and help them the way they define the issues.

Q  (Inaudible) Brazilian industry of defense has concern because they can't sell products (for ?) United States, and can’t buy (inaudible) goods for military issues?

SEC. MATTIS:  Right.

Q:  (Inaudible) have change, because sometimes the Brazilian industry (can resist ?), can find this products from China or Russia.  Can change (inaudible) Brazil can have more open markets in United States, or more access for technologies, for (inaudible), and with (inaudible)?  How do you see what's happening (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  See, like the many nations we have certain agreements on -- on allowing shared technology, and some that are security arrangements.  (Inaudible), we share it, for example, this country.  Another country can't come in and steal from this country.  

So there's certain protections countries put in place, and that opens the door.  There's a lieutenant gen in there -- as a matter of fact, he's there now -- a lieutenant general who's with me, who runs our defense peer cooperation outfit, and what he is here for is he also here to listen, to see how we can actually open this up?

I think you're aware that one of the two airplanes right now (inaudible) light attack, if we go forward, light-attack formations is a Brazilian airplane.  We have a lot of foreign-made equipment.  The U.S. Marines' Harrier, their Jumpjet that they've used for how many decades was made in -- originally in the United Kingdom, for example.

So we're more than willing to be open on this, but we have to listen first, find out where your -- where the leadership is there.  And then we'll see what we can do to move things along these lines.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  I want to speak louder, so.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, please.

Q:  Four years ago, we had (inaudible) not saying that the relationship....

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS:  Say that again -- four years ago?

Q:  Yes.  And the (inaudible) relationship between the U.S. (inaudible) in the region has been (inaudible).  Four years ago, in agreeance with Russia and China, with the governments (inaudible), Brazil, Argentina (inaudible) for the U.S.  Do you think that the change of scenarios in countries like Colombia, (inaudible) and Brazil, is it an opportunity for the U.S. regain a little bit of control?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.  OK, for number one, I have no interest in regaining control, that I think we never had.  The -- this is a partnership; no one controls the other.

But I think you mentioned Argentina.  I'll remind you who was there with most of the help when their submarine was lost.  The Americans military to military now, leave all -- you know, leave everything else aside, we were there.  We were there as fast as we could get there.  We did everything we could with the best technology in the world, the same technology, the same level of support if a U.S. submarine had gone done off Virginia.  We were there as fast as we could get there.

So I look at areas where we work with respect for one another and that is easily shared between militaries.  When you go underwater in a submarine, we understand what the Argentine sailors were going through when they went -- our submarines go through the same things; it's an unforgiving environment.  So we've got to be ready to help another.

I -- I do not look at what other nations are doing as somehow an attack on us.  And they're -- again, those are sovereign decision by sovereign states.  

So along -- it would only concern me if they were losing sovereignty over their own decisions due to inroads by other nations, and this is a longstanding American tradition.  It goes back to the Monroe Doctrine.  And we believe the Monroe Doctrine thematically is still the right thing, where every democratic nation, every nation, and hopefully every democratic nation here in our hemisphere, because that's (inaudible) primarily, from Canada to Chile to Argentina, the whole (inaudible), primarily democracies, they get to make their own decisions, and no one else has a veto authority over them based on some kind of predatory economics, or bringing in commercial activities, and hiding a military design.  Those things would concern us.

But where it's transparent, it's economic, it's a globalized world; that's not our concern.

STAFF:  Sir (inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, go ahead.

Q:  So, sir, how much of -- how concerning is this space satellite controller in Argentina, in light of the interests in making sure that everybody has their own control of their technology?  The Chinese have set this thing up.  We're going down a week after the setting up of the Space Command.  I know it's a coincidence, but it looks from the outside like we could be having a rivalry here soon?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, I mean, space is going to become increasing important to economies all around the world, because it enables so much in terms of information flow, observation of weather patterns -- I mean, I could go on -- scientific research.  I mean, it's the new frontier right, you know.

So, no, this -- my -- this has -- the coincidence of my going down here, this trip  has been planned for many months, and we're not -- it has no connection to that.

Q:  But do they have now an intelligence capability in the atmosphere that they didn't have before (inaudible)?

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, you'd have to ask the Chinese that question, yes.

Q:  I don't think they're going to very transparent, sir.

SEC. MATTIS:  Pardon?

Q:  I don't think they're going to be very transparent on that one.

SEC. MATTIS:  My goodness, China not being transparent is your assessment?  I -- I defer to your assessment.

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.  I wouldn't argue with it.

We'll go about one more questions and then we'll switch it off to off the record, OK.

Q:  (Inaudible) about Yemen.  Last week there was a Saudi-conducted airstrike that killed dozens.  It seemed to hit a school bus.  I know the Saudis conducted it but, you know, it's with U.S. training, U.S. targeting information, U.S. weapons.  Is this sort of thing causing you to rethink the U.S. role in that coalition, in that conflict?

And you know, what type of investigation in that attack do you think needs to be conducted?  The State Department was calling for a Saudi-led investigation.  Would that be in line with your thinking?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, I support State Department's call.  There, I would tell you that we do help them plan what we call -- what kind of targeting?  I'm trying to trying of the right word.  We do not do dynamic targeting for them, where they're in the air and they come under fire with missiles being fired, that sort of thing, and they're turning on late-breaking intelligence.  We try to assist them in how they protect certain locations, that sort of thing.

But the plan we'd make is I've spoken now several times, either in person in the Pentagon or on the phone, with the U.N. special envoy, and the United Nations recognizes the government of Yemen, the Arab Coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, supports the Arab Coalition, in terms of its -- its effort to restore the legitimate government.  The special envoy is meeting all parties, Emirates, Omanis, Saudis, Houthis, the Yemen government, trying to get this into the U.N.-brokered negotiation.  We -- that is what we support.

We are not engaged in the civil war.  We will help to prevent, you know, the killing of innocent people.  I'm very concerned about the humanitarian situation.  It's, I believe, the largest cholera outbreak we've ever seen.  So we're working that.  We're working closely with -- with the special envoy.

And I have dispatched a three-star general into Riyadh to look into what happened here, and if there is anything we can do to prelude this in the future, even while we support State Department's call for an investigation.

Wars are always tragic, but we've got to find a way to protect innocents in the midst of this one.

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  (Inaudible) Brazil.  Brazil for many years to have permanent seat in the Security Council, in the U.N.  Why is it still open to debate this situation, to -- to debate this Brazilian historically (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, E.K.?, I'd leave that sort of issue to the State Department, because under their responsibility.  And I try to stay pretty much in the security realm here.

So let's go off the record now.