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American Turkish Council

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Washington D.C., Monday, October 18, 2010

It’s a pleasure to address the American Turkish Council.  Some of you might remember that I addressed this group about three and a half years ago.  In fact, it was my very first speech as Defense Secretary that I gave here in Washington and it was at the behest of my friend, Brent Scowcroft.  Now I am here at the invitation of another good friend, Richard Armitage.  Of course I have to tell you for both it really wasn’t a very hard sell because of the importance I had long attached to the U.S.-Turkish relationship.

I recalled when speaking to you in 2007, that one of the first conversations I had was with somebody many of you know well – Eric Edelman, our former Ambassador to Turkey, then our Undersecretary of Defense for Policy.  And, one of the first things I talked with Eric about was the importance of the U.S.-Turkey relationship; a partnership that I thought had not received the attention and priority that it deserved.

Nearly four years later, I do believe we have made progress in our relationship, even as it has come under stress in recent times.  As with all friends, we have had some disagreements – for example, Turkey’s vote this spring on Iran sanctions, and we continue to urge Turkey to maintain a constructive relationship with its neighbor Israel.  Nonetheless, even as our views and approaches on some issues may differ, we are allies, we share fundamental interests in the region, and our goals remain the same:

  • Respect for sovereignty and rule of law;
  • Economic growth and development; and
  • Enduring stability and security.

Furthermore, the ties between our two defense establishments remain firm, and our ongoing military-to-military relationship is as close and as productive as ever.  The U.S. deeply appreciates Turkey’s contribution to the international military effort in Afghanistan, where more than 1,700 Turkish troops are serving.  Turkey has ably held command of the International Security Assistance Force twice during this conflict; it now leads the Kabul Regional Command, and recently, I’m gratified to add, has decided to extend that leadership for another year.

With Iraq, our nations have worked persistently and collaboratively through the Iraq-Turkey-U.S. trilateral security dialogue to build confidence, improve cooperation, and address areas of mutual concern, such as shared borders, stability and counter-terrorism.  Turkey has been in many ways a model of positive engagement with Iraq, regularly working with Iraqi leaders to reinforce that nation’s emerging democracy, encouraging national reconciliation initiatives, and working to rebuild defense and security ties with the Iraqi security forces. 

And, of course, the United States is committed to working closely with Turkey to confront the PKK, a terrorist threat we recognize as paramount to Turkey’s national security interests.  In response to the rise in PKK terrorist attacks against Turkish military forces and civilians over the past year or so, the U.S. has steadily increased its efforts to crack down on PKK criminal enterprises, enhanced its intelligence support, and reached out to our European allies to encourage them to freeze PKK assets in Europe.

As President Obama noted in his speech in Ankara last year, the U.S. and Turkey have fought together from Korea to Kosovo to Kabul.  I believe our partnership is defined not just by the enemies we’ve faced, but our fundamental shared interests and values.  Both of our countries are diverse democracies which, in the words of Ataturk, “strive to win (our) victories in such fields as culture, scholarship, science and economics.”  These common interests and values underpin the support of the United States for Turkey’s greater integration into European institutions.  As you know, America has long endorsed Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, and we would echo the NATO Secretary General’s recent call for greater cooperation between Turkey and the European Defense Agency.

Of course, the most important international security framework for both of our countries continues to be NATO – history’s most successful military alliance.  In the wake of the Cold War, many questioned NATO’s continued relevance.  But as we have learned over the past decade, there continues to be needed for the democracies of the west to, in the words of the preamble to the North Atlantic treaty, “unite their efforts for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security.”   

But to stay credible and relevant, NATO must continue to adapt and reform.  In this regard, the upcoming Lisbon Summit can be a transformational moment for the alliance.  It will mark the adoption of a new Strategic Concept, a pivotal guide for NATO as it navigates a complex and uncertain security environment.  

Consider that at NATO’s founding more than six decades ago, few would have imagined that the first invocation of Article 5 in the alliance’s history would follow a direct attack on the United States homeland by a non-state entity.  Indeed, in today’s security environment:

  • Threats are more likely to emanate from failed, failing, or fractured states than from aggressor states;
  • Dangerous, non-state actors operate from within nations with which we are not at war, or from within our own borders; and
  • Weapons proliferation and new technologies make possible the specter of chaos and mass destruction in any of our capitals.

Reflecting this strategic reality, NATO is now pursuing new missions far from its original geographic boundaries – whether in the hills of the Hindu Kush or off the coast of Somalia.  

However, to a large degree, NATO’s institutional structures and bureaucratic culture still lag behind operational realities.  I’ve spoken to this subject many times, including just last week at the NATO Defense Ministers meeting in Brussels.  The alliance has long had too many committees, too many headquarters, and too much bureaucracy overseeing too few deployable and properly resourced military capabilities.  To some degree, the institutional reforms being pursued at NATO reflect many of the changes underway within our own Department of Defense – all for the purpose of reducing overhead and shifting more resources to our fighting forces.  For the past year, NATO has worked to address these problems and we are making very significant progress, as reflected in the agreements reached at our meeting in Brussels last week. 

On the subject of reform, the U.S. would like to thank Turkey for its many contributions to this NATO effort, and we look forward to working with the new Assistant Secretary General for Defense Policy and Planning, Hüseyin Diriöz, as he undertakes one of the most important jobs at NATO headquarters.

In addition to its institutions, NATO’s military capabilities must also adapt to today’s security environment.  These critical new capabilities that I believe the alliance must have in the 21st century – one of the most important is territorial missile defense. 

Two and a half years ago in Bucharest, NATO’s heads of state and government recognized the need for an alliance-wide response to the threat of ballistic missiles in the hands of those who might seek to intimidate or harm NATO.  We resolved then to develop options that could extend coverage to all European allied territory and populations, a resolution echoed at subsequent high-level meetings.

In response, the United States has strongly recommended that NATO adopt our Phased Adaptive Approach as its own.  This approach offers a territorial missile defense system based on proven technologies that can be adapted to meet future dangers and protect a steadily increasing swath of NATO territory.  As the threat from ballistic missiles grows, so will the scope and effectiveness of NATO’s defenses against them.

Our object is the fullest possible coverage of NATO allies and, over time, to provide coverage for all of NATO.  In the first phase of this approach, to be completed by next year, we will deploy proven, sea-based SM-3 interceptor missiles — defensive weapons that are growing in capability — to those areas where the threat is greatest.  The second phase, which will become operational around 2015, will involve placing upgraded, ground-based SM-3s in Romania as well as at sea, expanding the defended area.  Phases three and four will deploy even more advanced interceptors, including a second land-based interceptor site in Poland.  Overall, this approach provides the Alliance with a great deal of flexibility to protect against the range of threats posed by ballistic missiles, and to adapt as new threats develop and old ones recede.

Territorial missile defense offers NATO a unique defensive capability and an opportunity to ensure the future credibility of Article 5 and to uphold the principle of the indivisibility of allied security.  Under the NATO umbrella, allied nations could participate with systems of their own and would collaborate in developing rules of engagement and other key decisions that implement missile defense.  

The Phased Adaptive Approach has been thoroughly studied.  It is effective, it is affordable, and it can be fielded quickly.  The U.S. has engaged Turkey in political and military dialogue on its potential technical and operational contributions should NATO adopt this approach.  Contrary to some press reports, we are not pressuring Turkey to make a contribution.  But we do look to Turkey to support NATO’s adoption at the Lisbon Summit of a territorial missile defense capability. 

Territorial missile defense is a critical role for the alliance as it adapts to the 21st century security environment, and the U.S. strongly believes the Phased Adapted Approach is the best route to acquiring it.  It is my hope that, at Lisbon, all of our NATO allies will lend their support toward achieving this end – for their own security, for the security of the alliance, and the security of the alliance that we have so steadfastly supported these sixty plus years.

I would like to close by returning to an old Turkish proverb that we should keep in mind as our two nations face together a variety of common challenges in the years ahead.  That saying is,  “a wise man remembers his friends at all times, a fool, only when he has need of them.”  The United States and Turkey have wisely remembered our friendship, during times of agreement and disagreement, and it is incumbent for us to continue to do so.  There is too much at stake – for our prosperity, for our security, and for the credibility of our alliance.

Thank you.

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