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Woodrow Wilson International Center Forum on NATO Expansion and European Security

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Washington, D.C., Friday, May 02, 2014

Jane, thank you. I'm always overwhelmed in your company, but now you've outdone yourself with a special Nebraska Cornhusker scarf. And by the way, the Cornhuskers will have a better season this year. Thank you.

Thank you, Jane. And thanks to the Wilson Center for what you continue to do for our country and for world affairs. You bring thoughtful analysis and leadership to these tough issues. The world is complicated, as we all know. It's not getting any less complicated, nor is it getting any less dangerous. So your continued contributions and leadership, as well as this institution, are very valuable and important parts to all of our efforts - global efforts to find peaceful, wise resolutions to these difficult problems.

To my friends here who were on the panel, always good to see you. Thanks for your continued contributions, as well. And for those here who have been in this business of analysis and thinking and writing for many, many years, thank you, and now is no time to stop. We're going to need everybody more than maybe ever in our lifetimes.

As the world expands, opportunities expand, but threats, challenges expand. Technology, unprecedented change all over the world. But it is our time, and we must not fail the world.

As Jane noted, I have known Jane many years. We worked together in the Congress, traveled together, always admiring her judgment and ability and sharp analysis of issues. And in particular, I have always admired and respected and particularly appreciated her directness.

Those of you who know Jane well - and most of you do - know that she's very clear in what she believes and says it very plainly, and that isn't altogether bad. And I think if there was ever a time for plain talk in the world today - respectful, respectful of each other and sovereignty and our interests all over the world, but we have to be clear with each other. And Jane has done that, and I think we all appreciate that in our leader.

So, Jane, thank you, and thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk about this issue. And I know what your theme is this morning. And it's particularly timely, as well as valuable, so thank you.

The challenges facing NATO today remind us of the enduring need for this historic alliance and what we must do to strengthen it. Sixty-five years ago, after a long debate about America's role in the postwar world, eleven envoys gathered in the Oval Office at the White House to witness President Truman formally accepting and ratifying the North Atlantic Treaty.

Doing so, President Truman broke with prominent voices, as has been noted here this morning, including those prestigious voices [like] George Kennan[s]. Those voices called for America, in Kennan's words, to relieve “ourselves gradually of the basic responsibility for the security of Western Europe.”

Instead, General Eisenhower arrived in Paris in 1951 as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. By 1953, 11 U.S. Air Force wings, 5 Army Divisions, and 50 Navy warships had followed. Militaries of NATO nations began working together. They began working together to integrate North American and European strategy, plans and forces.

America did not make commitments abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.” Instead, President Truman joined the North Atlantic Treaty because he said he was convinced that NATO would serve as “a shield against aggression and the fear of aggression” and thereby let us get on with the “real business of government and society” at home.   Truman joined the North Atlantic Treaty, because it was, as he put it, “a simple document” that, “if it had existed in 1914 and in 1939 would have prevented…two world wars.”

America was committed to NATO because NATO would help protect vital American interests by reinforcing the unity of transatlantic security. NATO would ultimately protect security and prosperity here at home…a truth that I believe endures to this day.

On the centennial of the start of World War I, and weeks before the 70th anniversary of allied landings at Normandy, Russia's recent action in Ukraine has reminded NATO of its founding purpose. It has presented a clarifying moment for the transatlantic alliance.

NATO members must demonstrate that they are as committed to this alliance as its founding members were who built it 65 years ago. They must reaffirm the security guarantees at the heart of the alliance. They must reinvigorate the unrivaled joint planning, exercises, and capabilities that are its lifeblood. And they must reaffirm, that from the Mediterranean to the Baltics, Allies are Allies. Our commitment to the security of every Ally is resolute.

This moment comes as NATO ends its combat mission in Afghanistan later this year, the longest, most complex operation in its history, and one that has strengthened the capability and the cohesion of the alliance. It also comes as we prepare for a NATO summit this fall in Wales, which will be an opportunity to re-examine how NATO militaries are trained, equipped, and structured to meet new and enduring security challenges.

After more than a decade focused on counterinsurgency and stability operations, NATO must balance a new renewed emphasis on territorial defense with its unique expeditionary capabilities, because, as we have seen, threats to the alliance neither start nor stop at Europe's doorstep…emerging threats and technologies mean that fewer and fewer places are truly “out-of-area.”

Balancing a full range of missions will require NATO to have a full range of forces, from high-end systems for deterrence and power projection to special operations and rapid response capabilities.

Allied forces must also be ready, deployable, and capable of ensuring our collective security. I said at NATO's Defense Ministerial meeting earlier this year that we must focus not only on how much we spend, but also on how we spend, ensuring we invest in the right interoperable capabilities for all NATO missions. This will require the United States to continue prioritizing capabilities that can operate across the spectrum of conflict against the most sophisticated adversaries. And it will also require NATO nations - NATO nations - to prioritize similar investments in their own militaries.

Since the end of the Cold War, America's military spending has become increasingly disproportionate within the alliance. Today, America's GDP is smaller than the combined GDPs of our 27 NATO Allies. But America's defense spending is three times our Allies' combined defense spending. Over time, this lopsided burden threatens NATO's integrity, cohesion, and capability, and ultimately both European and transatlantic security.

Many of NATO's smaller members have pledged to increase their defense investment, and earlier this week at the Pentagon, I thanked Estonia's Defense Minister for hisnation's renewed commitment and investment in NATO.  But the alliance cannot afford for Europe's larger economies and most militarily capable allies not to do the same, particularly as transatlantic economies grow stronger. We must see renewed financial commitments from all NATO members.

Russia's actions in Ukraine have made NATO's value abundantly clear, and I know from my frequent conversations with NATO defense ministers that they do not need any convincing on this point. Talking amongst ourselves is no longer good enough. Having participated in the NATO defense ministerials over the last year-and- a-half and having met with all of my NATO counterparts, I've come away recognizing that the challenge is building support -- the real challenge, real challenge is building support for defense investment across our governments, not just in our defense ministries. Defense investment must be discussed in the broader context of member nations' overall fiscal challenges and priorities. Today, I am therefore calling for the inclusion of finance ministers or senior budget officials at a NATO ministerial focused on defense investment. This would allow them to receive detailed briefings from alliance military leaders on the challenges we all face. Leaders across our governments must understand that the consequences of current trends in reduced defense spending and help will break up the fiscal impasse.

In meeting its global security commitments, the United States must have strong, committed, and capable allies. This year's Quadrennial Defense Review makes this very clear. Going forward, the Department of Defense will not only seek, but increasingly rely on closer integration and collaboration with our allies—and in ways that will influence U.S. strategic planning and future investments.

For decades, from the early days of the Cold War, American Defense Secretaries have called on European allies to ramp up their defense investment. And in recent years, one of the biggest obstacles to alliance investment has been a sense that the end of the Cold War ushered in the “end of history” – an end to insecurity, at least in Europe - an the end [of] aggression by nation-states. But Russia's action in Ukraine shatter that myth and usher in bracing new realities.

Even a united and deeply interconnected Europe still lives in a dangerous world. While we must continue to build a more peaceful and prosperous global order…there is no post-modern refuge immune to the threat of military force, and we cannot take for granted, even in Europe, that peace is underwritten by the credible deterrent of military power.

In the short term, the transatlantic alliance has responded to Russian actions with continued resolve. But over the long term, we should expect Russia to test our alliance's purpose, stamina, and commitment. Future generations will note whether at this moment - at this moment of challenge - we summoned the will to invest in our alliance. We must not squander this opportunity or shrink from this challenge. We will be judged harshly by history and by future generations if we do.

NATO should also find creative ways to [help] nations around the world - to help them adapt to collective security, to rapidly evolving global strategic landscapes. Collective security is not only the anchor of the transatlantic alliance; it is also a model for emerging security institutions around the world, from Africa to the Persian Gulf to Southeast Asia. I say this having just convened a forum of ASEAN defense ministers last month and having called for a Gulf Cooperation Council defense ministerial this year.

These institutions bring all of our peoples, all of our interests, all of our economies closer together - serving as anchors for stability, security, and prosperity. Strengthening these regional security institutions must be a centerpiece of America's defense policy as we continue investing in NATO. As these institutions develop their own unique security arrangements, they stand to benefit by learning from NATO's unmatched interoperability and command-and-control systems.

There can be no transatlantic prosperity absent security, but we must also keep in mind that investing in our alliance and our collective security means more than just investing in our militaries alone.

It means the United States and Europe must partner together over the long term to bolster Europe's energy security and blunt Russia's coercive energy policies. By the end of the decade, Europe is positioned to reduce its natural gas imports from Russia by more than 25%. And the U.S. Department of Energy has conditionally approved export permits for American Liquefied Natural Gas that add up to more than half of Europe's gas imports from Russia.

It means deepening our economic ties through new trade initiatives, like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

And it means continuing to exercise global leadership in defense of shared values, like human rights and the rule of law.

Let me conclude by reflecting on the historic decision 20 years ago to move toward NATO enlargement, which I know, as Jane has noted, is a focus of this Congress. Then, as now, some argued that NATO enlargement invited Russian aggression. Critics called it a “tragic mistake” and an “irresponsible bluff.” Some still do.

But the historical record now speaks clearly for itself, and it makes clear that NATO has sought partnership, not conflict, with Russia, and that enlargement has contributed to stability and security.

No one wanted to replace Europe's Cold War dividing line with a new one, so America and its allies made a good-faith effort to convince Russia that our security interests were converging. President Clinton urged that, in his words “the measure of Russia's greatness would be…whether Russia, the big neighbor, can be the good neighbor.” Despite the reservations of many aspiring new members, NATO established the Partnership for Peace and negotiated the NATO-Russia [Founding Act]. Some U.S. government officials went so far as to say that Russia might one day even join the alliance.

But even as we pursued cooperation with Russia, we were never blind to the risks. Strobe Talbott, former Deputy Secretary of State, warned in 1995 that, in his words, “among the contingencies for which NATO must be prepared is that Russia will abandon democracy and return to the threatening patterns of international behavior that have sometimes characterized its history, particularly during the Soviet period.” And today, NATO must stand ready to visit the basic principles underlying its relationship with Russia.

NATO enlargement did not - did not invite Russian aggression. Instead, it affirmed the independence and democratic identity of new members. It did not foment crisis then or now. Instead, it settled old disputes and advanced regional stability. It promoted freedom and free markets, and it advanced the cause of peace. That is why NATO still holds the door open for aspiring members and why it must maintain partnerships with nations around the world.

Consider the alternative: a world without NATO enlargement and the assurances of collective security it provided.

That world would have risked the enormous political and economic progress made within and between aspiring members. It would have risked a precarious European security environment in which today's central and eastern European allies would be torn between Europe and Russia. It would have risked insecurity reverberating deep into the heart of Western Europe. And, ultimately, it would have risked a Europe more fractured and less free.

Thanks to American leadership, and thanks to some of the distinguished leaders here today, that you'll hear from this morning - that is not the world we live in.

Yes, the world's dangerous. Yes, the world's imperfect. Yes, we have challenges.

But we must reflect on what we have done as we prepare and build platforms and institutions to take on these new threats of the early 21st century.

In 1997, I said on the Senate floor that “America, Europe, and Russia could all benefit if the nations of Central and Eastern Europe are anchored in the security NATO can offer.”

Today, the transatlantic alliance anchors global security. It offers a powerful antidote to the “aggression and fear of aggression” that President Truman warned against in 1949. It has spread the rule of law, freedom, stability, and prosperity. And it will endure well into [this] century and the next century, but only if nations on both sides of the Atlantic seize this clarifying moment.

Two years and 19 days after General Eisenhower arrived in Paris as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, he was inaugurated as the 34th President of the United States.

President Eisenhower was as war-weary as the American public and people all over the world. He had written to his wife, Mamie, in his words, that he “constantly wondered how ‘civilization’ can stand war at all.” He would lie awake at night, smoking cigarettes, and he acknowledged privately that there was “not one part of his body that did not pain him.” But in his first formal address as President, Ike insisted that America had to remain engaged in the world. He said “No nation's security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation, but only in effective cooperation with fellow nations.” And in 1957, President Eisenhower returned to Paris, where  - in his address to the first NATO summit of heads of state  - he connected America's transatlantic commitments to the “vitality of our factories and mills and shipping, of our trading centers, our farms, our little businesses,” and to our rights at home, our rights to “produce freely, trade freely, travel freely, think freely, and pray freely.”

Those who doubt the value of America's commitments abroad should recall that wisdom…because the unprecedented peace and prosperity we enjoy today was hard-won, and we must remember - it is always perishable. As Ike liked to say, “It takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice by a lot of people to bring about the inevitable.”

Without deep engagement in the world, America would face more conflict, not less - and on the terms of our adversaries, not on our own terms. That is why America's commitment to its allies - in Europe and around the world - is not a burden it's not a luxury. But it is a necessity. And it must be unwavering.

Thank you. 

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