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Munich Security Conference

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Munich, Germany, Saturday, February 04, 2012

Thank you very much, Wolfgang. I appreciate the introduction.  It is a distinct honor for me to be here in Munich, and to be among so many distinguished leaders from Europe, from the United States and from around the world.  As the son of Italian immigrants, I am always honored to come back to my roots in Europe.

I'm particularly pleased to be able to appear alongside Secretary Clinton, who has been on this stage so long and has worked together and tirelessly with our European allies and partners to strengthen our mutual international security.

Today I'd like to discuss how we in the United States see our relationship with Europe evolving in light of the new strategic guidance for defense that was released just this last month by the U.S. Department of Defense.  The reason we developed this guidance is clear.  We are at a strategic turning point after both a decade of war and a decade in which there has been very substantial growth in the U.S. defense budget.  And like most nations on this continent, America faces a fiscal crisis that has resulted in legislatively mandated defense budget reductions of $487 billion over 10 years.

And as difficult and tough as it is to achieve these savings, we view this as an opportunity to shape the U.S. military force, a force we need not just for now but in the future.  By implementing this new guidance, we will ensure that the United States military remains the strongest in the world and is fully capable of defending the interests of the United States and the interests of our allies.

We do not want to repeat the mistakes of past drawdowns by cutting across the board and hollowing out the force.  And unlike past drawdowns, when threats that we were confronting receded, we still confront a number of serious threats in the world.  There is still a war in Afghanistan.  We confront the threat of terrorism, nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran, turmoil in the Middle East, rising powers, cyber attacks.  We designed a strategy to deal with these threats.

Let me summarize the key elements of the new U.S. defense strategy.  First, the United States military will be smaller and we will be leaner.  That was something, frankly, that was going to happen under any circumstances by virtue of the drawdown that we were involved in.  But what we wanted to stress was a force that would be agile, that would be flexible, that would be rapidly deployable, and that would be technologically advanced.  It must be a cutting edge force for the future.

Second, we will enhance our presence in Asia Pacific and the Middle East, where we see the greatest challenges and the greatest opportunities in the 21st century. 

Third, we will maintain a robust presence in Europe and elsewhere in the world by investing in existing alliances, by helping to make them stronger, by developing new partnerships, and by developing new innovative rotational deployments that will give us the capability to have a presence not only in Europe, but in Africa and Latin America and elsewhere.

Fourth, we will ensure that we can quickly confront and defeat aggression from any adversary, any time, any place.  It is essential that we have the capability to deal with more than one adversary at a time, and we believe we have shaped a force that will give us that capability.

And fifth, we will protect and prioritize key investments – key investments in technology and new capabilities from special operations forces to cyber and space and unmanned systems, as well as our capacity to surge, adapt and grow as needed.  That means we must maintain a strong National Guard and a strong Reserve and a strong economic base.

For Europe, the U.S. defense strategy reaffirms the lasting strategic importance of the transatlantic partnership with the United States.  Although it will evolve in light of strategic guidance and the resulting budget decisions, our military footprint in Europe will remain larger than in any other region in the world.  That's not only because the peace and prosperity of Europe is critically important to the United States, but because Europe remains our security partner, our security partner of choice for military operations and diplomacy around the world.  We saw that in Libya last year and we see it in Afghanistan every day.

Drawing on the lessons of a decade of war, a robust and effective network of alliances and partnerships is absolutely an essential element of this strategy's vision for the future U.S. military.  As part of the strategy, we are therefore deeply committed to strengthening transatlantic security partnerships and institutions, including NATO.

Much as changing strategic and fiscal realities have offered the United States the opportunity to build a force for the future, I believe that today's strategic and fiscal realities offer NATO the opportunity to build the alliance we need for the 21st century, an alliance that serves as the core of an expanding network of partnerships across the globe in support of common security objectives.  But it is an alliance that remains rooted in the strong bonds of transatlantic security cooperation and collective defense.

Let me lay out how we intend to strengthen transatlantic security cooperation by describing what European allies and partners can expect from the United States and our new defense strategy. 

First, we will focus on the most pressing security challenges by investing in ballistic missile defense capability for Europe in response to the emerging threats beyond Europe.  As part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach and NATO's missile defense capability, we have established a radar system in Turkey.  We will be stationing SM-3 missiles in Romania and Poland.  And we will deploy four BMD – ballistic missile defense-capable ships, Aegis ships to Rota, Spain.  President Obama has made clear that the United States is firmly committed to building a missile defense system in Europe.  The new defense strategy and our budget priorities reflect that commitment.

Second, we will invest in shared capabilities that will ensure NATO remains the strongest and most capable military alliance on earth.  To address intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance shortfalls, some of which the Libya operation exposed, NATO has agreed as of yesterday to fund the new Alliance Ground Surveillance system.

I want to thank the secretary general and all of my fellow defense ministers in NATO for having made that very important decision, that is in many ways the foundation of smart defense.  For that reason, we in the United States have protected funding for AGS in our new defense budget.  Safeguarding critical capabilities was a core objective of our budget and strategy review of the United States, and it is important that we send a strong message that we remain committed to this system and bolstering NATO's cutting edge capabilities.

Third, we will employ innovative approaches to strengthen security cooperation, even as we reduce the numbers of U.S. troops and dependents that are permanently stationed in Europe.  We will maintain two brigades garrisoned in Europe in addition to moving forward with the missile defense deployments that I've already detailed, establishing an aviation detachment in Poland and taking steps to enhance the responsiveness of special operations forces in the region.

As we reduce the end strength of our land forces overall, we will remove two heavy, fixed brigades that are currently garrisoned in Europe – two brigades that, I might point out, have spent most of their time in the war zone and not here.  We selected these legacy brigades for transition because they are the least adaptive to the complex challenges we face and we expect to face alongside our European partners.

We made this decision only after ensuring that our force posture adjustments will not weaken our ability to meet our commitment to the security of Europe or our Article 5 responsibilities.

Today, I can announce that the United States will make a new commitment to the security of our NATO partners by reinvigorating our contribution to the NATO Response Force that we value so much.  The NRF was designed to be an agile, rapidly deployable, multinational force that can respond to crises when and where necessary.  The United States had endorsed the NRF but has not made a tangible contribution due to the demands of the wars – until now.

In the coming months, we will identify a U.S.-based brigade from which we will provide the United States land force contribution to the NATO Response Force, and we will rotate a battalion-sized task-force to Germany for exercises and training.  Not only will this open up new opportunities for U.S. troops to train and exercise with our European counterparts, it will ensure NATO has the capability to conduct expeditionary operations in defense of our common interests.  But to fully realize the goal of a strong and agile NRF, we need the support of other Alliance members.  

In all, the steps Europe can expect from the United States amount to a vote of confidence from Washington in the future of the Alliance, especially in a period of fiscal austerity.  Let me now suggest the steps that Europe can take in order to cast a similar vote of confidence. 

First, we must all continue to invest in national defense and in shared responsibilities and capabilities of NATO in order to best manage the security challenges of the future.  Approaches like "Smart Defense" help us spend together sensibly – but they cannot be an excuse to cut budgets further.  This is the view that I shared with my fellow NATO defense ministers this week, noting that as we move towards the Chicago summit, Smart Defense should be part of a longer-term plan to invest in a NATO force for 2020 that is fully trained and fully equipped to respond to any threat and defend our common interests.

Second, what emerged from a series of meetings with my NATO counterparts this past week was a recommitment to finishing the job in Afghanistan.  Our bottom line, as the foreign minister pointed out, is in together, out together.  As an Alliance, we are fully committed to the Lisbon framework and transitioning to Afghan control by 2014.

Our discussions included considerations of how ISAF will move from the lead combat role to a support, advise and assist role as Afghan Security Forces move into the lead.  We hope Afghan forces will be ready to take the combat lead in all of Afghanistan some time in 2013, as we complete the final tranches of areas that we transition to Afghan control.  But, of course, ISAF will continue to be fully combat capable.  And we will engage in combat alongside the Afghans as necessary thereafter.

We are making progress in Afghanistan.  As General Allen pointed out in a report to my NATO colleagues, violence is down, the insurgents have lost momentum.  The transition to Afghan security responsibility has begun.  The second tranche of areas that was transferred to Afghan control represents the fact that over 50 percent of the Afghan population is now under Afghan control and security.

The key to the success of this transition rests on a continued commitment by the international community to the long-term development of the Afghan National Security Forces.  To sustain sufficient security, the ANSF requires adequate financial support, support that is consistent with our commitments that have been made, commitments made by the international community at the Bonn Conference last December.

I recognize that we face intense pressure to reduce the support given the budget constraints that we all face and that all ISAF nations are facing.  But even as we will work to find ways to reduce ANSF costs over time, and we will – and we have – we cannot shortchange our commitments.  We cannot shortchange the security that must be provided by the Afghan army now and in the future.  We cannot count on other nations to fill the gaps.  We must do everything we can to support this force.

Over a decade of war from the mountains of Afghanistan to the shores of Tripoli, this alliance has proven its relevance in the security challenges of the 21st century.  We have in many ways moved closer to realizing a vision for the Atlantic community that was articulated by President John F. Kennedy.  He indicated this vision nearly 50 years ago in the same year of the first-ever Munich security conference.

In 1962, President Kennedy envisioned that one day the United States could partner with a revitalized Europe, and I quote, "on a basis of full equality in all the great and burdensome tasks of building and defending a community of free nations," unquote.

We are closer than ever to achieving that vision.  But to do that, we must meet the great and necessary tests of the 21st century together.  And we must draw strength from our common values, our common interests and our common purpose to forge a better and a safer world and to give our children a better life.  That is our dream.  It is also our mission.

Thank you very much.

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