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 it.
Gates' frank analysis of the Russian government matches the take of top Russian opposition leaders, such as Russia's former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who 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 authorities."
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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FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
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INFO RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//USDP/ISA/ISA-EURNATO//
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 6557
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 3937
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RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 0955
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CDR USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 PARIS 000170
E.O. 12598 DECL: 02/12/20
SUBJECT: SECDEF GATES'S MEETING WITH FRENCH MINISTER OF DEFENSE HERVE
MORIN, FEBRUARY 8, 2010.
PARIS 00000170 001.2 OF 004
Classified By: Alexander Vershbow, ASD/ISA. Reasons 1.4 (b/d).
Ref: USNATO 56
¶1. (S/NF) SUMMARY: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (SecDef) was
hosted by French Minister of Defense Herve Morin for a working lunch
during an official bilateral visit to Paris on February 8, 2010.
SecDef and Morin agreed on the basic themes to be included in NATO's
revised Strategic Concept. On Missile Defense, SecDef refuted Morin's
contention that a European Missile Defense system is both unwise and
unnecessary but pledged to give France and other Allies better
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 Council
Resolution (UNSCR). On Afghanistan, SecDef praised French
contributions and highlighted ongoing trainer shortfalls. SecDef
raised U.S. concerns over the sale of a Mistral-class helicopter
carrier to Russia as sending a mixed signal to both Russia and our
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 tanker
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
¶2. (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 adopted with
great momentum, and define NATO's roles and missions. It should not
just be a restatement of the conventional wisdom.
¶3. (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 security alliance
that can address a wide range of global threats. SecDef said that the
Strategic Concept must better align resources with NATO's level of
ambition; it must lay out a comprehensive approach to civil-military
cooperation and enhance partnerships with the EU, UN and other
international organizations. SecDef concluded that, above all,
financial and broader structural reform must be pursued -- either as
part of the Strategic Concept or in parallel.
¶4. (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 in mind.
Cyber attacks? 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 the Pacific.
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 the
Mediterranean. He concurred with Morin that a bigger Alliance posed
¶5. (S//NF) Morin told SecDef that the UK MoD had proposed drafting a
joint French-UK proposal on NATO reform to then present to the U.S.
Noting that the objective was to overcome blockages from those
countries that had underwhelming General Staffs, Morin asked whether
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 to develop
joint proposals. 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 some
concrete and viable ideas for reform.
¶6. (S/NF) Morin, having expressed strong reservations to new U.S. and
NATO missile defense (MD) plans at the NATO ministerial in Istanbul
(reftel), said he wanted to explain how France sees MD and raise some
questions. First, he believes that the shift from Theater Missile
Defense (TMD) to defense of populations and territory will give publics
a false sense of security, since the sword was ultimately stronger than
the shield. For France, security came from strong defense and
deterrence. Second, Morin asked what threat the system aims to
counter. Nuclear states or rogue states? Third, Morin asked about
funding and how European countries would participate in command and
control (C2) decisions. Morin summarized his own personal opposition
to MD by asserting that the U.S. and Europe have differing mentalities
on defense spending. He said the U.S. has true resiliency with
PARIS 00000170 002.2 OF 004
"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 defenses.
Morin concluded by stating that it was folly to assume that MD would
give us added security.
¶7. (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 limited
but growing missile capability to launch them. Noting Iran fits that
profile, SecDef said that MD provides a good deterrent against limited
¶8. (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 the U.S.
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 France was
seeking. SecDef reminded Morin that POTUS will want to obtain a
decision affirming the Alliance role in MD at the Lisbon summit in late
¶9. (S/NF) Responding to SecDef's discussion of MD, Morin asked why
there was a need to shift from theater to population defense. SecDef
said the systems the U.S. was deploying have broader applications. For
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
population. Gates offered the Aegis ship-borne SM-3, which was used to
shoot down a defunct satellite, as a second example of a system that
could also have broader applications and deter Iran from holding us
hostage by threatening missile launches.
¶10. (S/NF) Recalling that Russian Prime Minister Putin once told him
Iran was Russia's greatest threat, SecDef noted that Russia could plug
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 believed that
the three-stage Ground-Based Interceptor could have been converted
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 possible.
(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 essentially
"erase" what he had just said. END NOTE.)
¶11. (S/NF) Shifting from Missile Defense to Iran, SecDef noted that
Russia is now of a different mind on Iran because of Tehran's
persistent rejection of international proposals for negotiated
solutions and its concealment of the Qom facility. SecDef believed
Russia would be supportive of a new UNSCR, although it may have
different views on the severity of sanctions, but he expressed concern
about China. SecDef said that Russia could perhaps help on China, but
that securing the support of other non-permanent Security Council
members was also an issue. In this regard, SecDef told Morin he had
been blunt with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, telling him that if
Iran developed nuclear weapons, we were facing two scenarios: nuclear
proliferation in the Middle East or a regional war (or perhaps both).
¶12. (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
operation. SecDef told Morin that he believed a conventional strike by
any nation would only delay Iranian plans by one to three years, while
unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the
¶13. (S/NF) MoD Morin agreed that China could be problematic on the
UNSCR and queried SecDef how the U.S. believed we could ensure their
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 provide
defensive weapons for Taiwan. He observed that every time the U.S.
makes the sales to Taiwan, the Chinese suspend military-to-military
relations, but only for the short term.
¶14. (S/NF) Morin expressed doubt about the willingness of the Pakistani
PARIS 00000170 003 OF 004
government to fight extremists at home. He noted that Karzai had told
the French that if the Pakistan-Afghanistan border were closed, it
would largely solve issues in Afghanistan. SecDef replied that he had
told the Pakistani government two weeks earlier that Al Qaeda was
helping the Pakistan Taliban to destabilize Pakistan. SecDef
highlighted the dramatic changes in Pakistan over the past 18 months,
especially in Swat and Bajaur provinces, which offered some hope of
progress. SecDef said that there was increasing coordination between
U.S. and Pakistani forces across the border.
¶15. (S/NF) Turning to Afghanistan, MoD Morin began by stating that
although he had announced an additional 80 trainers, France had also
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 NOTE.) France
had also sent an additional deployment of engineers to work exclusively
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.
¶16. (S/NF) SecDef said the U.S. understood the domestic situation and
that he would not have pressed France publicly for more forces until
after the March elections. However SecDef requested that France
strongly consider substantially increasing military and police
trainers. SecDef said that while he would publicly praise French
troops, which U.S. troops consider terrific fighters, he was fine with
keeping these discussions close hold.
¶17. (S/NF) Shifting topics, Morin questioned the decision to
specifically name mid-2011 as the start of a withdrawal, which Morin
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 most
protracted debates in Washington in recent months. SecDef had come to
the conclusion, however, that the Afghans needed to be put on notice
that they would need to take responsibility for their own security. He
pointed out that there is no end date for U.S. involvement; July 2011
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 opinion.
SecDef concurred and observed that the U.S. public will not tolerate a
¶18. (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 honoring,
the sale would send the wrong message to Russia and to our Allies in
Central and East Europe.
¶19. (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 desire
partnership but then not trust them. Morin told SecDef that he
understood the U.S. position on considering Central and East European
Allies' concerns about the perceived threat from Russia. Morin argued,
however, that this single ship would not make any difference with
respect to Russian capabilities, as Russia's naval production ability
was severely degraded.
¶20. (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 security
services. President Medvedev has a more pragmatic vision for Russia
than PM Putin, but there has been little real change.
KC-X Tanker RFP
¶21. (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 companies and
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.
¶22. (S/NF) SecDef stated his belief that the RFP would be fair. He
PARIS 00000170 004 OF 004
told Morin that the Air Force had established the requirements. He
noted that since the previous competition, he had fired both the
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 proposal.
¶23. (U) SecDef has cleared this cable. Drafted by OSD Staff.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.