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Hagel Notes Americans’ Cautious View of Military Engagements

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2013 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today that as the world becomes ever more complex and war-weary and Americans turn their eyes to domestic issues, U.S. military actions must be considered carefully and used judiciously.

The will of the people as reflected in recent polls, Hagel noted, is for “No more wars, no more Middle East. I mean, I'm putting it very simply, but you know what the numbers are.”

Hagel addressed the U.S. military’s role in national security and international relations during a question-and-answer session with Defense One’s executive editor Kevin Baron at a conference the group hosted here today.

The discussion built on a speech Hagel gave earlier this month when he said the department is undertaking a needed realignment of missions and resources that will result in a significant change across every aspect of the enterprise. Today, the secretary expanded on why that realignment is necessary.

“We're going to put two billion more people on the face of the Earth here in the next 25 years,” Hagel said. “Water, resources, clean air, everything else that is basic to the survivability of man, is going to be part of what happens next.”

The world is growing more complex and interdependent, he said, and even with nations such as Iran and Syria, geopolitical developments mean military power can contribute to a whole-of-government approach that can offer a path toward engagement instead of war.

Iran and the United States have been involved in an “unofficial war” since 1979, Hagel said, and U.S. leaders are realistic about recent developments toward possible increased engagement between the two countries.

Iran has clearly been a very dangerous and lethal state sponsor of terrorism, the secretary said. “They cause tremendous trouble all over the Middle East,” he added. “ … Now, if we can move toward … some higher ground, to some possible, potential resolution to a problem, aren't we smarter to do that? Engagement is not surrender. It's not appeasement. And engagement is not negotiation.”

Syria’s offer to relinquish its chemical weapons stockpiles in the face of the U.S. threat of armed force demonstrates that a ready and capable military can help peacefully shape a more secure world, Hagel said. He noted that war is always an option, but often neither a popular nor a wise one.

“I know a little bit about war. I've been to one,” Hagel, a Vietnam combat veteran, said. “Not a happy time for anybody. There's no glory in war. There's only suffering. If you have to go to war, if that's the only recourse, you've got to do that.”

But it’s far preferable to engage with non-allied countries like Iran, Russia and China to avert conflict before it occurs, he said. And building capacity in allies and partners strengthens global security while easing the burden on the United States, the secretary said.

Hagel noted that Operation Damayan, the U.S. military humanitarian and disaster relief operation in response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, is a prime example of the range, power and speed with which American forces can respond to contingencies and the global part the nation’s military plays.

“We have many roles, but the primary role is the security and defense of this country,” the secretary said.

He noted that as war in Afghanistan winds down and churning continues in the Middle East, a whole new set of issues even apart from budget concerns waits in the wings. Later this month, Hagel noted, he’ll participate in the Halifax International Security Forum where he and two dozen other defense ministers will discuss future foreign policy, energy and commercial implications arising from a warming Arctic.

“I think that's going to be a very critical part of the next set of big … challenges for all of us,” he said. “And we need to really pay attention to that.”

(Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter:  @Parrishnafps) 

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