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Halifax International Security Forum

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Friday, November 18, 2011

Thank you very much, Peter MacKay, and thank you for the opportunity to be able to participate in this forum.

My fellow defense ministers who are here, members of Congress, members of the parliament, distinguished members of the military that are here, ladies and gentlemen, it is -- it's an honor to be here.  I truly appreciate this invitation because it gives me a chance to be able to share with you some of the challenges that obviously we all face.  This Halifax International Security Forum is indeed a preeminent forum to be able to present these remarks and to be able to engage in the challenges that Peter outlined.

This is my first visit to Canada as Secretary of Defense, but it is by no means the first visit to Canada for me.  I've had the opportunity to visit here in a number of past capacities, and I've always enjoyed the opportunity to come to Canada.  This is a great partner, a great neighbor, a great friend, and it's always good to be here.

As Peter knows, and as many of you know, I'm very proud of my Italian heritage.  And as the son of immigrants, to come to a place that was the center of immigration is indeed moving for me to be able to be here.

And what you may not realize is that John Cabot, the explorer who some credit with being the first European after the Vikings to set foot on the North American mainland, was also Italian.  His given name was Giovanni Caboto.  And he landed somewhere around where we are today around 1497.  So Peter and the rest of…our hosts here today, I hope you won't mind if I join all of you in welcoming you to Halifax.  Or, as Giovanni Caboto would have said, "ben venuto." 

I come here with a great deal of respect for the historic relationship between our two great nations.  It was a little over 50 years ago that someone who inspired me to get into public service, John F. Kennedy, traveled to Ottawa on his first trip outside the United States as president.  And I still remember very vividly his famous description of the bonds -- the bonds between the United States and Canada, delivered in a speech before parliament.  He said, and I quote, "Geography has made us neighbors.  History has made us friends.  Economics has made us partners.  And necessity has made us allies.  Those who nature hath so joined together let no man put us under."  Unquote.

The respect I have for this relationship has only grown as I've gotten to work with Canadian leaders throughout my time as a member of Congress, as White House chief of staff under President Clinton, as director of the CIA, and now in my current position as defense secretary.  We are, in a very real way, part of one family -- one family that is mutually dependent on one another -- on this North American continent.

That mutual dependence extends to issues of security, the subject of this conference, and also the focus of the same speech that President Kennedy gave before the Canadian Parliament.  Delivered at the height of the Cold War tensions confronting the world, Kennedy reminded his Canadian audience that, quote, "No free nation can stand alone.  No free nation can stand alone to meet the threat of those who make themselves our adversaries."  Unquote.

Although the world has changed in so many ways, this message resonates as strongly today as it did in 1961.  So, too, does the basic framework President Kennedy offered that day for meeting our security challenges and the security challenges of that era, that common challenges demand common action.  Today, 50 years ago -- like 50 years ago, common action necessitates strong leadership among all of us to forge strong alliances -- in this hemisphere, across the Atlantic, and indeed around the globe.

With that in mind, I would like to discuss today the priority the United States is placing on strengthening our alliances and partnerships for the 21st century as we near a turning point after a decade of war and adapt to a new set of challenges and priorities.

As we in the United States confront the fiscal realities of limited resources, we believe that we have the opportunity to establish a force for the future that, while smaller, is agile, flexible, deployable, and technologically equipped to confront the threats of the future.  It must be complemented by the full range of America's national security capabilities -- strong intelligence, strong diplomacy, a strong economy, strong technology, developments in cyber capabilities, using that great experience that we've gained from 10 years of war to be innovative, to be creative about the kind of force that we need for the future.

But it must also be complemented by strong alliances, partnerships, regional efforts at cooperation all have to be part of the answer.  The U.S. alliance system remains the bedrock of our approach to security across the globe, and an enduring strategic advantage and force multiplier that no rival possesses.

The reality is that the United States military alone cannot be all things to all nations.  We will maintain our excellence.  We will maintain our excellence.  We will maintain our leadership.  But in the effort to maintain our excellence and our leadership, we also have to meet our security commitments around the world.  And in doing that, we must, and we will, sharpen the application of our resources, better -- better deploy our forces in the world, and share our burdens more and more effectively with our partners.  And frankly, all of our allies need to do the same.

It will be even more essential, as we confront new and more complex security challenges in the years ahead, to be able to build strong alliances and strong partnerships, from terrorism to nuclear proliferation, from cyber attacks to the threats we face often.  All of these challenges do not recognize national boundaries and can't be addressed effectively by any one nation alone.

Such transnational threats demand a shared response.  That's why I've made it a priority to build and maintain partnerships across the globe.  It's a theme I reiterated extensively during the international travel that I made last month in Europe, in Asia and in the Middle East.

It has thus loomed large in our strategic review of the Department of Defense.  This review is an effort not only to grapple with new budgetary realities, but also to adapt the force to better confront current and future security challenges.

As we look at our global alliances, certainly none has been more successful than NATO, which I consider a real tribute to the decades of investment in capabilities and joint training and the determination of leaders from the trans-Atlantic community, many of whom I'm glad are here today.  Revitalizing NATO has been a centerpiece of the Obama administration's efforts to build stronger alliances and stronger partnerships.

As this alliance has expanded from a foundational focus on collective territorial defense to include expeditionary out-of-area operations, we have seen the payoff.  We've seen the payoff in Afghanistan, where 49 countries -- 49 countries -- have come together, largely under a NATO umbrella, expending both blood and treasure to prevent al-Qaida from ever again being able to use Afghanistan as a safe haven.  To all our ISAF partners, we are profoundly grateful for your sacrifice and for your steadfast partnership.

Here in Halifax, I want to pay particular tribute to Canada's decade-long effort in Afghanistan, where your distinguished military has performed in one of the most dangerous parts of the country -- performed in an outstanding manner -- the Taliban heartland of Kandahar.  We all owe a deep debt of gratitude to the more than 150 fallen Canadian heroes from the Afghanistan campaign, brave men and women who have paid the ultimate price and whose names are etched on black granite at Kandahar Airfield.

Alongside the United States, Canada's contribution to NATO's Libya operations also proved critical to our success.  During my visit to Europe last month, I had the opportunity to visit Allied Joint Forces Command Headquarters in Naples where I received a thorough briefing on the operation from Canadian Air Force General Charlie Bouchard who very ably orchestrated NATO's daily efforts.  He was tough; he was able; he took no prisoners.  It's not too strong to say that his leadership -- steady and sure -- proved vital to our eventual success in that mission.  And I want to thank him personally and here publicly for his courage and for his stewardship.

As we look to forge a stronger NATO that draws on our experiences in Afghanistan and Libya, the United States will continue to play a decisive role in safeguarding the shared interests of our NATO partners.  Part of doing so is enabling allies and partners to contribute their share to the common defense.  To do that, however, the alliance needs to develop new capabilities to keep pace with emerging threats even in an era of fiscal austerity.  As I said in Brussels last month, these challenging economic times cannot be an excuse for walking away from our security responsibilities.  I refuse to believe that we have to choose between fiscal responsibility and national security.

Instead, we must commit to ensuring that NATO addresses key shortfalls in areas such as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, precision strike munitions and aerial refueling and lift capabilities.  To fill these gaps, allied nations will need to pool their declining defense dollars more efficiently and effectively, as [Secretary] General Rasmussen has outlined in his Smart Defense initiative.  We are looking to make more progress on this front when our leaders gather next year in Chicago.

Modernizing NATO also means ensuring that investments are focused on the most likely future threats, in particular the challenge posed by countries like Iran who are developing intermediate-range missiles capable of targeting Europe.  The United States has been leading the way on NATO's efforts to establish missile defense, most recently when we announced that the United States would deploy AEGIS ships to the Mediterranean.  We are also hoping that missile defense will provide NATO and Russia an avenue for its most meaningful cooperation yet, presenting an opportunity for former adversaries to firmly turn a page on the past and deal meaningfully and effectively with the real threats that emanate out of the Middle East.

Our progress on missile defense is a tangible sign of how far we've come in modernizing the NATO alliance.  It's also a sign of our determination to sustain a capable and effective NATO and to live up to our collective security commitments on the continent of Europe, including our responsibilities under Article V.  But we must also constantly assess the forms of engagement that are most appropriate in light of the capabilities of our allies and the threats that we face.  These are the discussions that we're having at the department as part of our strategy and global posture review -- discussions that are forcing us to be very disciplined in setting priorities so that we maintain our global leadership role while meeting our fiscal responsibilities to the American taxpayer.

Let me be clear at the outset that the United States will always ensure that we maintain the right mix of forces and capabilities, including those stationed in Europe, prepared to meet the full range of security challenges, acting in concert with our allies, including instability on its periphery and unforeseen developments.  At the same time, we must build on our success with the transatlantic alliance and further enhance our collective security by building enduring and capable 21st-century security architecture in other critical regions of the globe, beginning right here in this part of the world.

Working with Canada, we are encouraging new partnerships in the Pacific but also in the Western Hemisphere, recognizing that regional challenges right here in our own hemisphere, from transnational criminal organizations to natural disasters require stronger, regional institutions that can deliver regional solutions.  We remain committed to strong bilateral partnerships with Canada and Mexico.  And we are also working with Canada to find more opportunities for our three countries to partner together in this hemisphere.  Another important mechanism is the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, which has turned into a valuable forum for discussion and collaboration on key defense and security issues. 

And as we look across the globe, two regions stand out as being home to particularly vexing challenges.  It is apparent to all that the Asia-Pacific region is going to be a principal force behind world economic growth, with lines of commerce and trade that are constantly expanding and security challenges that are growing in complexity.  In the Middle East, another region crucial to the global economy and U.S. interests, we've seen dramatic changes as a result of the Arab spring.  We've seen continuing violence.  We see continuing extremism.  We see continuing instability and the threat from Iran continues to pose challenges.

So as the United States draws down its forces in Iraq and begins to draw down its surge forces in Afghanistan, we also have to maintain a strong presence in the Middle East and work closely with our allies and our partners to bolster multilateral cooperation in countering threats emanating from al-Qaida, from Iran and elsewhere.  Given the global nature of security challenges and the global interests that are at stake, we need to build multi-lateral structures that will enable all of our allies and all of our partners to better cooperate to counter common threats.  That includes encouraging Canada and our European allies to join us in meeting common challenges -- whether it's in Asia-Pacific or in the Middle East or throughout the Western Hemisphere -- and enabling them to do so through NATO when appropriate.

As we examine our geographic priorities, it's important to remember that we can and we will do more than one thing at a time.  U.S. security commitments are not zero-sum.  And even as we enhance our presence in the Pacific, we will not surrender our status as a global power and a global leader.  As a country with global interests and responsibilities and with a military with unique global strength and reach, America will remain committed to global security.  In particular, we will continue to defend our shared interests in free and open commerce, the rule of law, freedom of movement across the global commons of air and sea and space and cyberspace, which is ultimately the bedrock of our security and our prosperity and that of our allies.

American and Canadian leadership have built a system of global security alliances and partnerships that have safeguarded and advanced the cause of liberty and prosperity and security for decades.  As we move forward, as we make the tough decisions needed to ensure a better life for our children and our grandchildren, we will not back away from these alliances and these partnerships.  Indeed, they are a key to our ability to provide that strong defense for the future.  We will strengthen them.  And in so doing, we will strengthen our two great nations so that we know even greater prosperity and even greater security in the century that lies ahead.

In the words of John Kennedy, "no free nation can stand alone to meet the threat of those who would make themselves our adversaries."  We stand together as friends, as neighbors, as partners, as allies.  That bond is the essential key to security in the 21st century.  Thank you.  

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