WASHINGTON, March 03, 2014 – Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation” today, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urged a diplomatic approach to resolve what he described as a “dangerous situation” in Ukraine.
The secretary explained the Defense Department’s strategic interest in Ukraine upon his recent return from a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels where he saw strong support for the beleaguered nation.
“This is a time for careful, wise, steady leadership,” Hagel told “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer. “The tensions increase and I think all nations have to be very careful here of not promoting any more tension through provocative action.”
Following a Ukrainian pro-democracy coalition’s recent ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian government, the Russian military has been reported to be operating in and around the Crimea region in southeastern Ukraine, where the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet has its principal base in Sevastopol on the Black Sea. The Crimea region is home to an ethic-Russian majority populace.
Hagel emphasized that diplomacy would be the appropriate path to support the Ukraine, which he called a sovereign, independent nation.
“They have been a responsible, new independent member of the global community since the implosion of the Soviet Union,” Hagel said of Ukraine. “We have European Union and NATO interests that border Ukraine [and] these are people who want to be free, who deserve to be free.”
Following today’s meeting in Brussels of NATO’s North Atlantic Council the council condemned the Russian Federation’s military escalation in Crimea and expressed its grave concern regarding the authorization by the Russian Parliament to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine, according to a NATO news release.
“Military action against Ukraine by forces of the Russian Federation is a breach of international law and contravenes the principles of the NATO-Russia Council and the Partnership for Peace,” the NATO release added. “Russia must respect its obligations under the United Nations Charter and the spirit and principles of the OSCE, on which peace and stability in Europe rest. We call on Russia to de-escalate tensions.”
Russian military escalation of the situation in Ukraine “would set in motion so many different dynamics that are not in anyone’s interest,” Hagel said.
Turning to another subject, the secretary noted the Defense Department’s need to adjust to a more dangerous and complicated world, including the cyber threat.
“Not unlike every war the United States has been in, you reset your posture … your assets … your whole enterprise based on the new reality and based on preparing an institution for the challenges of the future,” Hagel said. “We’ve increased cyber assets … special operations … we’re focusing on readiness, capability, capacity … our ability to do the things we need to do in the … interests of the strategic guidance [President Barack Obama] laid out in 2012.”
But, Hagel acknowledged that security threats to the United States continue to exist and shift, leaving little room for complacency.
“Five years ago,” he said, “there wasn’t the same focus or reality of what a cyber attack could do to this country … [how it could] paralyze this country, bring our economy down without any nation firing a shot.”
And, the threat of terrorism remains and will persist into the future, Hagel said. Yet, while the requirement to defend the nation remains, the methods employed to do so are influenced by today’s budgetary realities and changing technology, he added.
“The fiscal constraints that are being placed on the Pentagon to make very tough choices here are very significant,” Hagel said.
He addressed accusations of balancing the budget on the “backs of those who have fought in war.”
“This isn’t just an arbitrary unilateral approach to try and slow the growth just to slow the growth,” Hagel said. “We’ve got to look at the long-term commitments to our people.”
Hagel noted that half of the DOD budget pays for compensation, retirement and medical care, which will increase significantly.
“We’re not cutting. We’re proposing slowing growth in certain areas,” Hagel said. “We think this is responsible. We don’t think it breaks faith with our people, but we have to reposition [and] I’ve got to be able to keep a modern military.”