Remarks by Secretary Carter at a Press Gaggle, Yokota Air Base, Japan
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
STAFF: Okay, guys, we're a little tight on time, so we're going to -- Secretary's going to say a little something at the top, then we'll probably take three questions and then we'll go to Korea.
So -- Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASHTON CARTER: Okay. This feels very formal here. Let me start on a note I didn't want to sound in front of the kids. But you probably know that there was an incident in Afghanistan yesterday. We lost one service member, had some wounded. I don't know all of the circumstances of that yet.
It's possible that it was a green-on-blue incident of the kind that we've had before. We just don't know all the details. Now I think the main thing, obviously, on my mind is the service members and their families themselves. And I guess it's a reminder, Afghanistan is still a dangerous place and there's still work to be done there to support the Afghan security forces so that they can sustain the progress that we've made there in the last few years and make it stick.
Let me stay something about the visit here. This was a terrific visit in the sense that there's just so much progress here. This is an historic moment for the U.S.-Japan relationship. I've been working on these issues for a long time. And there's never been a moment as significant as this.
Japan is one of our oldest and staunchest allies and it is changing its security posture in important and truly historic ways. And we're there, accordingly, changing our relationship to evolve with them.
And the purpose of my visit here was to prepare the way for, first, the so-called 2+2 meeting, which is the meeting of foreign ministers and our state -- Secretary of State John Kerry and also the defense ministers, which occurs later this month. And of course, that preparatory to the visit of Prime Minister Abe to meet with President Obama for a state visit in Washington.
And so, I had the opportunity to make progress and to discuss two very important things, which are the Defense guidelines and then, of course, TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership]. The update of the guidelines is significant because it opens up a lot of new possibilities for us to work together out here. We can work in new domains like space and cyberspace. We can cooperate in new ways, both regionally and globally.
So it has many dimensions to it and represents a modernization of our alliance. And to me, shows how lasting a security relationship with the United States is. We've had it for many decades. And of course, it's been instrumental in keeping peace and stability in this part of the world. And that, in turn, is what has led to the uplifting of so many people economically and politically out here. And that hasn't happened automatically. It happened because of the United States’ military role out here. That, in turn, has been a role in which we have worked with other countries and, in particular, allies and Japan strongest among them.
I don't want to keep hammering on TPP, but I just need to remind everyone that's an important part of our relationship out here, too, because it reinforces the strategic -- that strategic approach to this part of the world is not just a military matter. It's economic and political as well. So I won't repeat what I said the other day about that. But it's extremely important.
It was great fun for me to see -- meet these families and to tell them -- and you could see it registering in the kids' eyes and at least I certainly hope it did, that -- how proud we are of their mom or dad and, in some cases, both and that we're proud of them because they're standing behind. And I think I can see some glimmer of recognition of what I was talking about in the eyes of those kids.
And this whole month is the month of the military child. I know you know that. And I just think it's one of our great strengths that the military families are, because the people are what's key and what makes them able to do what they do for us is a strong family. So it's pretty cool to be here and to hear what they're doing.
I went into a little class where they were making birdhouses. I don't know if you guys got to see that, which was cool. And I didn't say this to the kids, but I said it to the adults that when I was in school, get this -- can you imagine doing this now -- our project was to make an ashtray.
Can you imagine your kid coming home with an ashtray from school now? (Inaudible). What? Okay. So anyway. So questions?
Q: Can I ask you follow-up question on your initial statement about the shooting in Afghanistan?
SEC. CARTER: Sure.
Q: Given the possibility that it is was a green-on-blue incident, as the new secretary, do you feel a need to review and assure yourself of the guidelines of the procedures that are in place to make sure that these kinds of attacks to stop them are sufficient to --
SEC. CARTER: Well, it's a good point, because -- and we are, in fact, changing our approach to force protection, as we change the role that we play there. And we learned a lot about two years ago, about vetting people, about avoiding situations, which lent themselves to that kind of thing. I think -- since I don't know the particulars of this case yet, there's an investigation ongoing. I'm not in a position to say specifically whether there are any things that we can learn from this that would be preventative for the future. But I think the premise of your question is an accurate one, which is that as circumstances change there, we need to make sure that we keep up with our approach to preventing green-on-blue. It's very much, I know, on everybody's mind over there. It always is.
Q: Mr. Secretary, there appears to have been several missiles that were launched by North Korea, apparently in response to the Foal Eagle exercise. What does that say about the threat posed by North Korea and the need for American military support to South Korea? And just to follow up on Bob's question, is there anything further you could say about how the U.S. is changing its approach to force protection in Afghanistan, like what that means specifically?
SEC. CARTER: The -- the -- just to be clear, on that latter part, I wasn't saying that we are changing. I'm just saying that as the mission changes, they are constantly re-thinking what kinds of contacts we're having with Afghan forces and so forth. So, I'm not saying specifically that -- this is a reflection of any changed techniques or changed situation, we just don't know at this moment what it is. I just want you to know that, you know, green on blue is a very significant thing so we -- every incident we try to learn from and adapt to.
On the North Korean missiles, I've heard that launch, I've heard that report as well. It's just a reminder of how tense things are on the Korean Peninsula. That's the reason I'm going. If it was a welcoming message to me, I'm flattered. I've been on the job for six weeks and that's two missiles, that's pretty good.
But in all seriousness, it's just a further reminder of the importance of our alliance on the Korean Peninsula, and that's the reason I'm going to go there, talk to our own commanders and troops, and very importantly to the government of South Korea, which like Japan, is a long-standing, very staunch ally out here.
Q: Time for one more. David (inaudible) from -- (inaudible). I -- just to follow up on -- on -- on the missile issue, does it show a particular need for – for the THAAD [Terminal High Altitude Area Defense] system.
And secondly, on the South China Sea issue, seen new photographs of the reclamation of what's going on at Mischief Reef. Can you tell us how close you think the Chinese could be to militarize -- that territory in the South China Sea? And --
SEC. CARTER: I don't want to -- I don't want to speculate on their -- their -- their -- their future plans. I can't -- I can't do that. So, I -- I -- I can't tell you that. Obviously this is something that we talk about with all our friends and allies out here, so it's not just an American concern.
It's a concern of almost every country in the entire region, and the fact that they talk to us about it is a reflection of how partnership with the United States is so valued out here. And we have said many times that the militarization of these territorial disputes by anybody is something that we oppose and is something that can lead to dangerous incidents and -- and -- and -- and so forth that I don't think anybody would ever want.
And so, but I -- I can't speculate on any of the particular parties, and where they're going, or what they're -- they're thinking about. I just can't.
Q: (off mic) on the THAAD issue
SEC. CARTER: Well, I -- these are missiles launched, and so it -- it reinforces the missile defense preparations we've long had on the Korean Peninsula and have here, by the way, in Japan also, as I'm sure you've -- you've heard.
And just more broadly than just missiles, it's a reminder of how dangerous things are on the Korean Peninsula and how a highly-ready force in support of a very strong ally like the -- the force of the Republic of Korea is necessary to keep the peace out there.
And that's what we'll be talking about and -- and visiting with Korean government about over the next couple days, the health of our alliance and the importance of our alliance to peace and security on the peninsula.
STAFF: Okay, great. We got to get going, guys. We're running late.
SEC. CARTER: Thank you, guys. See you on board.