When Defense Secretary Robert
Gates sat down with French Minister of Defense Herve Morin Feb. 8 in Paris, he had a harsh assessment of the
Russian government and some severe differences with his French counterpart on
several issues of international security.
"SecDef (Gates) observed that Russian democracy has disappeared
and the government was an oligarchy run by the security services," read a
cable about the meeting classified by Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow and leaked to the
self described whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The website posted Sunday just over 200 of the over 250,000
sensitive State Department documents it claims to have in its possession.
"President [Dmitry] Medvedev
has a more pragmatic vision for Russia than [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin, but there has been little real change," Gates
told Morin, according to the cable.
Gates was pressing Morin to rethink the
French sale of the amphibious assault ship the Mistral to Russia, a sale
that several NATO member countries and the country of Georgia loudly protested
around the time of the meeting. The cable details how strongly Gates pressed
the French on the issue and how strongly he was rebuffed.
Gates' comments about the Russian leadership were an attempt
to explain why he and many central and eastern European countries couldn't
accept Morin's statement that the West must trust the Russians when they
claimed the ship would not be used for aggressive purposes. In fact, Morin told
Gates that he personally pushed hard for the sale, despite that Russia has not
lived up to its agreements following its 2008 war with Georgia. Ultimately, the
sale of the Mistral went through and U.S. officials never publicly condemned
Gates' frank analysis of the Russian
government matches the take of top Russian opposition leaders, such as Russia's former
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov,
told Foreign Policy last month that, "We
have no democracy at all. We don't have any future of a democratic state.
Everything has been lost, everything has been taken from the people by the
But the comments go far beyond what
top U.S. officials have said in public about their concerns of the retreat of
democracy and good governance in Russia. In a separate cable sent in late 2008,
the U.S. embassy in Moscow reported that Medvedev "plays Robin to
Putin's Batman," the Guardian reported.
In their February meeting, Morin told Gates that expanding NATO
to include Georgia would weaken NATO Article 5, which provides for a common
defense. In response to that remark, Gates "stated his preference for NATO to
focus its efforts in the Euro-Atlantic area, perhaps extending into the Mediterranean,"
the cable stated.
The cable also reveals how strongly the French defense minister opposed U.S. plans for missile defense in Europe, especially the drive to link the plans with NATO, as was codified at the Lisbon summit only last week. Morin said the Obama administration's new plan would "give publics a false sense of security," and argued for a system based more on deterrence. He asked Gates who the system was aimed at and told Gates European countries don't have "infinite" funds to spend on such a system.
Gates replied that the system did add to deterrence and would have increased the capability as opposed to the Bush administration's plan. The new scheme also allowed Russian participation, which was impossible under the previous design, he said.
On Iran, Gates told Morin that Israel had the capability of striking Iran's nuclear facilities, but "he didn't know if they would be successful." He also told Morin that even a successful Israeli strike would only delay Iran's nuclear program "by one to three years, while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker."
Read the full cable after the jump:
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RHMFISS/CDR USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 PARIS 000170
E.O. 12598 DECL:
TAGS: PREL MOPS MAR FR IR AF NATO
GATES'S MEETING WITH FRENCH MINISTER OF DEFENSE HERVE
MORIN, FEBRUARY 8, 2010.
PARIS 00000170 001.2
Classified By: Alexander Vershbow, ASD/ISA. Reasons 1.4
Ref: USNATO 56
(S/NF) SUMMARY: Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates (SecDef) was
hosted by French Minister of Defense Herve Morin for a
during an official bilateral visit to Paris on February 8,
SecDef and Morin agreed on the basic themes to be included
revised Strategic Concept.
On Missile Defense, SecDef refuted Morin's
contention that a European Missile Defense system is both
unnecessary but pledged to give France and other Allies
information on the costs and command and control structure
of the U.S.
proposal. Both Morin
and Gates agreed that Iran's rejection of an
engagement track meant that the time for pressure had
arrived, but both
noted concern over China's opposition to a new UN Security
On Afghanistan, SecDef praised French
contributions and highlighted ongoing trainer
raised U.S. concerns over the sale of a Mistral-class
carrier to Russia as sending a mixed signal to both Russia
Central and East European Allies. Morin refuted this idea, arguing
that the sale was a way to send a message of partnership to
Russia at a
critical time. Morin
requested that the upcoming U.S. Air Force
Request for Proposal (RFP) for a new in-flight refueling
aircraft be unbiased.
SecDef told Morin that he had full confidence
that the RFP would be as fair as possible. END SUMMARY.
NATO Strategic Concept
(S/NF) Morin welcomed SecDef to France and asked about U.S positions
regarding the revised NATO Strategic Concept. Morin noted France's
interest in a document that would inject new ideas, be
great momentum, and define NATO's roles and missions. It
just be a restatement of the conventional wisdom.
(S/NF) SecDef told Morin he favored a short document that was
perhaps three to five pages in length. The Strategic Concept should
move NATO from a traditional defensive alliance to a
that can address a wide range of global threats. SecDef said that the
Strategic Concept must better align resources with NATO's
ambition; it must lay out a comprehensive approach to
cooperation and enhance partnerships with the EU, UN and
SecDef concluded that, above all,
financial and broader structural reform must be pursued --
part of the Strategic Concept or in parallel.
(S/NF) Morin agreed on length and the need for NATO to take on new
missions, but he wondered what types of missions members had
Terrorism? Proliferation? Missile Defense? Morin
also stated his belief that NATO needed to bring some
clarity to its
area of operation so that NATO did not end up extending to
He added that, in his
view, extending the Alliance to Georgia would
weaken Article 5.
SecDef stated his preference for NATO to focus its
efforts in the Euro-Atlantic area, perhaps extending into
concurred with Morin that a bigger Alliance posed
(S//NF) Morin told SecDef that the UK MoD had proposed drafting a
joint French-UK proposal on NATO reform to then present to
Noting that the objective was to overcome blockages from
countries that had underwhelming General Staffs, Morin asked
SecDef thought it would be better for Europe to build
consensus at home
and work its own ideas, or for Europe and the United States
SecDef replied that he thought it best not to have
two proposals, but that he would consult with SecState. He also said
he hoped that the Senior Officials Group would come up with
concrete and viable ideas for reform.
(S/NF) Morin, having expressed strong reservations to new U.S. and
NATO missile defense (MD) plans at the NATO ministerial in
(reftel), said he wanted to explain how France sees MD and
questions. First, he
believes that the shift from Theater Missile
Defense (TMD) to defense of populations and territory will
a false sense of security, since the sword was ultimately
the shield. For
France, security came from strong defense and
Morin asked what threat the system aims to
states or rogue states? Third, Morin
funding and how European countries would participate in
control (C2) decisions.
Morin summarized his own personal opposition
to MD by asserting that the U.S. and Europe have differing
on defense spending.
He said the U.S. has true resiliency with
PARIS 00000170 002.2
"infinite" means, while in Europe defense spending
has collapsed in
every country but the UK and France. As a result, any development
needing common funding will dilute the already weak European
Morin concluded by stating that it was folly to assume that
give us added security.
(S/NF) SecDef refuted Morin's arguments, pointing out that MD
contributes to deterrence.
SecDef explained to Morin that the system
was aimed at nations with a handful of nuclear weapons and a
but growing missile capability to launch them. Noting Iran fits that
profile, SecDef said that MD provides a good deterrent
(S/NF) SecDef agreed with MoD Morin that the U.S. owed NATO answers
on C2, costs, and the role of common funding. He pledged to provide
more details on these issues, as well as on how ALTBMD and
Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) fit together. However, SecDef said it
was important to move ahead with the MD study that was
endorsed at the
2009 NATO summit, since it would provide some of the answers
reminded Morin that POTUS will want to obtain a
decision affirming the Alliance role in MD at the Lisbon
summit in late
(S/NF) Responding to SecDef's discussion of MD, Morin asked why
there was a need to shift from theater to population
said the systems the U.S. was deploying have broader
example the THAAD system, which the U.S. had deployed to
Hawaii as a
measure against North Korean threat, protects both the
theater and the
offered the Aegis ship-borne SM-3, which was used to
shoot down a defunct satellite, as a second example of a
could also have broader applications and deter Iran from
hostage by threatening missile launches.
(S/NF) Recalling that Russian Prime Minister Putin once told him
Iran was Russia's greatest threat, SecDef noted that Russia
into the new system.
SecDef highlighted two Russian objections to the
former system: first,
the radar in the Czech Republic would have been
so powerful that it could see into Russia; second, Russia
the three-stage Ground-Based Interceptor could have been
easily to an offensive weapon. The SM-3 missiles in the new approach
can only be defensive in nature, however. For these reasons, the U.S.
believed partnering with Russia is once again potentially
(NOTE: Following the
meetings, Morin's critical comments on Missile
Defense were disavowed by senior officials at the MoD and
the MFA, who
said that his views were his own and that the U.S. should
"erase" what he had just said. END NOTE.)
(S/NF) Shifting from Missile Defense to Iran, SecDef noted that
Russia is now of a different mind on Iran because of
persistent rejection of international proposals for
solutions and its concealment of the Qom facility. SecDef believed
Russia would be supportive of a new UNSCR, although it may
different views on the severity of sanctions, but he
about China. SecDef
said that Russia could perhaps help on China, but
that securing the support of other non-permanent Security
members was also an issue.
In this regard, SecDef told Morin he had
been blunt with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, telling him
Iran developed nuclear weapons, we were facing two
proliferation in the Middle East or a regional war (or
(S/NF) Morin asked SecDef if he believed Israel had the capability
to strike Iran without U.S. support. SecDef responded that he didn't
know if they would be successful, but that Israel could
carry out the
told Morin that he believed a conventional strike by
any nation would only delay Iranian plans by one to three
unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against
(S/NF) MoD Morin agreed that China could be problematic on the
UNSCR and queried SecDef how the U.S. believed we could
vote, especially in light of the upcoming Dalai Lama visit
and the U.S.
weapons sale to Taiwan.
SecDef told Morin that because of
Congressionally mandated rules, the U.S. was required to
defensive weapons for Taiwan. He observed that every time the U.S.
makes the sales to Taiwan, the Chinese suspend
relations, but only for the short term.
(S/NF) Morin expressed doubt about the willingness of the Pakistani
PARIS 00000170 003 OF
government to fight extremists at home. He noted that Karzai had told
the French that if the Pakistan-Afghanistan border were
would largely solve issues in Afghanistan. SecDef replied that he had
told the Pakistani government two weeks earlier that Al
helping the Pakistan Taliban to destabilize Pakistan. SecDef
highlighted the dramatic changes in Pakistan over the past
especially in Swat and Bajaur provinces, which offered some
progress. SecDef said
that there was increasing coordination between
U.S. and Pakistani forces across the border.
(S/NF) Turning to Afghanistan, MoD Morin began by stating that
although he had announced an additional 80 trainers, France
sent a non-official contribution as well. (NOTE:
Morin was referring
to a classified deployment of French Special Forces that
have a limited
mission to find two kidnapped French journalists. END
had also sent an additional deployment of engineers to work
on the Counter-IED mission.
Morin underscored that France had
significantly increased its contributions in Afghanistan in
the past 18
months from 2700 troops to nearly 4000.
(S/NF) SecDef said the U.S. understood the domestic situation and
that he would not have pressed France publicly for more
after the March elections.
However SecDef requested that France
strongly consider substantially increasing military and
trainers. SecDef said
that while he would publicly praise French
troops, which U.S. troops consider terrific fighters, he was
keeping these discussions close hold.
(S/NF) Shifting topics, Morin questioned the decision to
specifically name mid-2011 as the start of a withdrawal,
thought would simply make the Taliban wait it out. SecDef noted that
whether to set a date for transition had led to one of the
protracted debates in Washington in recent months. SecDef had come to
the conclusion, however, that the Afghans needed to be put
that they would need to take responsibility for their own
pointed out that there is no end date for U.S. involvement;
is just the beginning of a process. POTUS was very clear that the
transition would be conditions-based. Morin agreed with this and urged
that clear benchmarks be set that could reassure public
SecDef concurred and observed that the U.S. public will not
(S/NF) SecDef expressed U.S. concerns about the Mistral sale to
Russia. He told Morin
that because of Sarkozy's involvement in
brokering a ceasefire in Georgia, which Russia was not fully
the sale would send the wrong message to Russia and to our
Central and East Europe.
(S/NF) Morin told SecDef pointedly that he had pushed hard for the
sale. He conceded
that it was indeed a warship for power projection.
But Morin asked rhetorically how we can tell Russia we
partnership but then not trust them. Morin told SecDef that he
understood the U.S. position on considering Central and East
Allies' concerns about the perceived threat from
Russia. Morin argued,
however, that this single ship would not make any difference
respect to Russian capabilities, as Russia's naval
was severely degraded.
(S/NF) SecDef replied that U.S. concerns were not about military
capacity but about messaging. Some allies, because of their past
experiences, are still very concerned with Russia and are
not sure how
much to trust the West.
SecDef observed that Russian democracy has
disappeared and the government was an oligarchy run by the
Medvedev has a more pragmatic vision for Russia
than PM Putin, but there has been little real change.
KC-X Tanker RFP
(S/NF) Morin told SecDef he had one final, but major, topic to
raise, the U.S. contract tender for a new tanker plane. He asked that
the RFP be issued so that competition was equal for both
there was no bias.
Morin stressed that it was important for our market
economy to be a two-way street. He told SecDef that if the terms of
competition are unequal, EADS would not submit a bid.
(S/NF) SecDef stated his belief that the RFP would be fair. He
PARIS 00000170 004 OF
told Morin that the Air Force had established the
noted that since the previous competition, he had fired both
civilian and military leaders of the Air Force and that
there was a new
person in charge of the Pentagon's acquisition policy. SecDef said
that it would be disappointing if EADS did not submit a
(U) SecDef has cleared this cable.
Drafted by OSD Staff.