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Remarks by Secretary Hagel at a Townhall in Stuttgart, Germany

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
August 06, 2014

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you, very much.

And I want to thank General Breedlove and all that helped lead this outfit.

And thank you, each of you, for what you do, every day, and you do it very well. And we're very proud of that. We're proud of your families. And please give your families our thanks and let them know we appreciate their sacrifices as well.

I was with President Obama late yesterday afternoon for about an hour, prior to going to Andrews and coming over here. And he asked me to make sure I extend his appreciation and thanks to each of you.

What I'd like to do is take a couple of minutes, talk a little bit about some of the things that you're doing, I'm doing, we're all doing together, what's going on in the world. Then we'll open it up and talk about whatever -- whatever you want to talk about.

I'm here today, and then I'll leave tomorrow to go to India and spend a couple of days there. And then on to Australia, where I'll meet with Secretary Kerry for what's referred to as a two-plus-two meeting, it's a regular meeting we have with the Australians. It's the secretary of defense, secretary of state meeting with the Australian minister, foreign minister and defense minister.

Like each part of the world, they're not segmented into narrow channels of interest. What you're doing here and what you represent, the challenges you have are connected to Asia-Pacific, connected to every part of the world. You all appreciate that.

We're living at one of these not just unprecedented and historic times, but interconnected, complicated times that require all of us to view what we're doing in a larger framework of responsibilities.

It's a -- it's a bigger scope than any of us have ever had to work in before, that presents new challenges, new, certainly complications, but it also presents a tremendous amount of new possibilities that none of us have ever seen.

Like at all times in the history of our world, and the history of this institution, it really depends on the quality of our people. It depends on leadership. It depends on a wise, steady view of how we come at our jobs every day.

And I think every now and then, we all need to be reminded of that, because we are, as we should be, focused on what we're doing and the heavy responsibilities that you have, and the people in your command but also not forget about what else if going on in the world. So in India, I’m going to follow Secretary Kerry’s visit and our secretary of commerce, Pritzker's, visit -- they were there about a week ago and attempt to try to continue to build, not just a stronger military-to-military relationship with the Indians, but our interests are varied and common -- stability, security, economics, possibilities, freedom.

As you all know, India represents the largest democracy in the world. They just had an election. They have a new government. The new prime minister is coming to Washington to see President Obama next month.

So I'll be there, working, yes, our specific issues, but it's larger -- it's larger than -- than that.

I think, too, when we look at Asia-Pacific, in that area of operation, that, too, represents tremendous new opportunities, but challenges as well. We need partners. We need relationships. That's the kind of world we live in, and that's the kind of world that we're going to be living in.

In Australia, that relationship between our two countries has always been strong. We share many, many common interests. And so, I look forward to having an opportunity to spend some time with the Australians and working through some of the big issues that we have together and certainly as specific powers representing the region.

When you really define all of this down to the three most important components of what we're doing today, what our strategic interests are, reflected in our budget, reflected in the quadrennial defense review (QDR), which we just came up with earlier this year, the three priorities are people -- no institution can succeed or be what it can be without quality people.

Second, capabilities. If we are going to ask our men and women to make sacrifices and do the things you all do every year, most of you all your careers, then we need to assure you that you'll have the capabilities that are required to stay ahead. And it is technology. It is every component of capability.

And, third, partnerships, the continuing to build and enhance partnership capability. We're doing that certainly every day within NATO, within our European community. We do -- we're doing that in the Pacific and the Asian region.

As we partner with other countries, do joint exercises, we – Australia would be a good example -- doing things we've never done with Australia, rotational bases of our Marines in Australia.

We've -- just as you, I think, know -- recently signed an agreement with the Philippines to have a new rotational opportunity and agreement to use a couple of their bases.

So the more that we can help build the capacities and capabilities of our partners all over the world, that gives them more of an opportunity not just to defend themselves and their interests but focusing on mutual interests.

Because the mutual interests that we all have are security and stability that give us all an opportunity to succeed and give our people opportunities to do better in their lives, educate their children, give everybody a possibility for a better life, individual liberty.

So those are the three focus areas that I'll be talking about here, I talk about when I go anywhere around the world. And I think, again, when you define it down and every component of what we're doing, what you're doing, reflected in our budgets, QDRs, it really is -- is about those -- those three things.

I know this is a -- a time, especially with what's going on in Ukraine where you are particularly focused, that is really challenging us in ways we've never quite been -- been challenged before.

But it shouldn't be any surprise when you look at history and as the world grows larger now, over seven billion global citizens -- and I mean global citizens -- where essentially boundaries are meaningless when it comes to both opportunities and threats.

We're going to all have to live together and we're going to have to find ways to deal with each other.

And what you do everyday in our military, in our national security apparatus is not the only building block but it's a very important foundational piece of assuring that stability and -- and security in the world.

And again, I think because we all are so focused on what we do everyday, occasionally, we -- we don't remind ourselves enough of -- of the bigger scope and responsibilities of what we have and -- and why we do what we do.

So again, I want to thank you and again, please express my thanks to your families for what they do. I'm personally very proud to be part of your team, to be part of what you're doing.

These times in history don't come very often and when you're all sitting at a beach somewhere or whatever you like to do, with your grandchildren on your laps and you'll tell them about this time and you'll have an awful lot to say and I think you'll have a lot to say in a very -- a very prideful way of -- of how you did this. And I -- I think that's the kind of time in which we find ourselves.

And it's a great privilege to be doing what we're doing because not many people ever have a chance to make this kind of a difference in what they do in their lives.

So thank you very much.

Be glad to respond to questions, comments, advice.

(LAUGHTER)

Gen. Breedlove, especially, some advice. Okay, right here.

Q: Sir, given current events going on and -- what type of discussions, if any, are taking place regarding the reduction in forces, given that, you know, there's flare-ups in Syria, Egypt, Libya and Ukraine and so forth?

So what's taking place to address that? Are we looking to defer the reduction in forces or are we still looking to stay on track?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, we are exploring all the dimensions of our force reductions.

That, of course, is a result of the reality of our budget and you all know enough about what's going and I don't need to go back through what's happened in the last couple of years and what's projected to continue to happen. But unless we are able to change the current law, which is sequestration, which in 2016, FY [fiscal year] 2016 comes back.

I mean, we're still taking major cuts this year and we'll take major cuts in FY 2015. But '16 comes back and if that law is not changed, that's going to require about another $50 billion a year cut from the Defense Department. Now, that's in addition to the $490 billion over 10-year cut that we're already implementing, that we started a couple years ago.

So, the reality is that we have a finite set of resources and we're going to have to prioritize where we apply those resources. And as we've come down from 13 years of two large-scale land wars, it's a natural process on a reduction of force structure and it happens after every large conflict that we have been engaged in.

I might add, I was looking at some numbers on this point yesterday. And when you look at the last three large exercises this country has been involved in, go back to Desert Storm, Vietnam, Korea. Now, Desert Storm wasn't that long in the sense of an enduring number of years, but the drawdown projected today as a result of the 13 years in Iraq and Afghanistan is significantly lower in drawdown of force structure than it was for those three previous conflicts.

Now, that doesn't change anything, but historically that -- that's an interesting thing to note. But we are constantly, to your question, constantly going through assessing where our challenges are, where the threats are, how do you prioritize your forces. It goes back also to partnerships -- where are our partners' capabilities to do more, and we'll help them do that.

So yes, we are -- we're constantly adjusting and reflecting and making those adjustments based on what we think is in the best interest of our country in each part of the world, in each combatant command.

You had one over here -- yes?

Q: Sir, I'd like to get your thoughts on the current Israeli-Hamas conflict. Specifically, what I'd like to hear is what are your thoughts on how we could establish an enduring peace between the two entities.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, that has been an elusive task over the years for a lot of people.

(LAUGHTER)

But it is one that is -- is worthy and we must continue to assist in every way we can, as we continue to do that. Now, the ceasefire, from what I was told a couple of hours ago, continues to hold. That's good news, because until you have that as the first step, and then start working your way through, then how do you sustain it and what needs to be done.

But we can't -- we, the United States, being – the most significant power on earth today, we have some responsibilities. Some, I know, are thrust upon us because we are a great power. And I recognize some of those responsibilities may be seen by some as fair or unfair. But nonetheless, we are where we are and I don't think any of us would give up our status in the American -- in life today as to being a different kind of a power.

This country has done more good for more people in the history of our country than any one country, and I would challenge anybody to challenge me on that. We've made mistakes. We don't do everything right all the time. But when you look at our history, we do a pretty good job of helping others.

And on your particular question, we've got to continue to build platforms to help both sides resolve those differences. These are historic differences. They have been around a long time. And we can't impose peace. We can help bring it. We can do things that will foster it, will help build it. And in the end, when you look at basic differences of people, factor in a lot of dynamics -- religion, history, ethnicity, boundaries -- I get all that. But, you know, I've been to a lot of places on earth, as many of you have. And I've never found ever a place -- a group of people, regardless of religion, ethnicity, region -- where you could say that one group or one religion, one tribe, one country loves its children more than another, or doesn't want some kind of a future for their children, better than what we have now.

SEC. HAGEL: Now, so -- so what? What does that say? Well, it says to me that if we're smart enough or we're wise enough, somehow, there's enough humanity that's the common denominator of all of us to find some resolution to these problems.

Now, we don't all have to particularly like each other. We don't have to have dinner with each other every Saturday or Sunday, but we've got to get along. We've got to find a better way. And I think what's going on in the Middle East is a good example of that. So we have some responsibility, we’ll continue to help with that responsibility, lead that responsibility but we have limited influence. Great powers have great limitations. And it's -- it's a matter of finding where we can use our influence most effectively to help bring resolution. Not impose, not dictate, but -- but to assist in doing that.

We'll continue to do that. It's a thankless job in many ways. It's imperfect. Problems all the time, no matter who it is, what administration or which secretary of State, you get blamed because you didn't do something right, whatever. But we can't give up. We can't give up. It's in everybody's interest.

So, you know, I'm hopeful. There are big problems. I know that. But it's one step at a time, and that's the way we're taking it.

Yes?

Q: The Ebola crisis in Africa -- is that on DOD radar?

SEC. HAGEL: Yes, the Ebola crisis in Africa is certainly on DOD radar. I think most of you know that the two Americans brought back to Emory Hospital in Atlanta landed at our Air Force base in Georgia.

AFRICOM [U.S. Africa Command] -- I know what -- (inaudible) -- doing with some of his people, are involved in working with countries and citizens to lend whatever support we can lend -- DOD in our facilities to assist in whatever way we can assist.

This is a -- a big problem, as you know. We have to protect our people. And we will. But where we can be of assistance, we will, and we are.

Yes?

Q: Since the MH-17 shootdown, how have you seen our relationship with Ukraine change over the last few weeks?

SEC. HAGEL: For those of you who didn't hear the question, since the shootdown of MH-17, how have I seen our relationship to Ukraine change over the last few weeks?

Well, I think at first, our relationship with Ukraine has been one since it became independent 20 years ago -- has been one of working with the Ukrainians at different levels to help their people, to assist them as they work toward developing a functioning democracy that -- that they can sustain. So, that relationship has been a -- a good and positive relationship.

With what's happened over the last half year, with Russians -- Russia's irresponsible and dangerous actions, that certainly has brought the relationship between, not just the United States and Ukraine, but I think all the countries of Europe closer in -- in many ways. And we are assisting Ukraine, as you know, in every way we can on the shootdown of the MH-17. We're helping where we can with the -- not just the Ukrainian government, but with the Australians and the Dutch and wherever we can be of some assistance to help them with their efforts to get their people out of there, to get investigators on the ground. As you all know, it's still a dangerous -- a lot of problems still exist.

But the Ukrainian people deserve to have a future based on what they want, not based on what some other country dictates to them or tells them they should have.

And, like always, our position is that's important for all people, and we'll work with all countries to help promote that, sustain that and build that for the Ukrainians.

The Ukrainian people deserve great credit. They have been very courageous. I'm very hopeful with their new government, and that election went off. They have a new president. Their prime minister is doing some important work.

I just spoke last week with the Ukrainian defense minister, had a long conversation with him. I know our people talk often with the Ukrainians, in some cases a daily basis, both on the diplomatic, military side, economic side.

So they deserve an opportunity to make their own choices and their own decisions.

One more?

One more question.

Yes?

Q: Sir, every NATO summit has large issues to deal with. And this one, coming up in four weeks, is no different. I'm just wondering about your thoughts going in, and expectations coming out of the summit in early September.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think this NATO summit is going be one of the most important summits we've had in a long time, for all the reasons you know.

We have a new secretary general that we'll be transitioning in. But what's going on here and in Europe, what we just talked about, Ukraine, the relationship with Russia certainly will be very high on that agenda. I think Afghanistan, with the NATO ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] forces, as we make further commitments and decisions on enduring presence, post-2014, that certainly will be there.

I think this will give us an opportunity, this summit, to look at how NATO is organized, is it organized the way it should be organized for the kinds of new challenges that are emerging? Like every living thing, enterprises, institutions, are dynamic and they must stay relevant to the challenges. That's a constant evaluation of the structures and the processes.

And I suspect we're behind on some of these things, NATO. And this will give us an opportunity to review, and which we have been doing, what General Breedlove and all of his people have been doing, and all the 28 members of NATO have been doing this. General Rasmussen, Secretary General Rasmussen has been doing an awful lot of this.

So -- to this will be an important summit. And I think we can get a lot done. I know President Obama is looking forward to this. We talked about it a little bit yesterday on the things that we can do.

I think with the -- with Russia's actions, and the provocative actions that it has taken over the last six months, this obviously is forcing us to -- to take another look at the relevancy of NATO and how well NATO is structured and prepared.

I think it's also going beyond just NATO. I think it's making all the nations of Europe take another look at the realities of the -- of the world.

And so, I think this will be as important a summit as we've had in a long time, and I look forward to the opportunities to address a lot of these things. When you've got everyone's attention, this isn't just another oh, well, let's go to another meeting for two days.

This is a -- this is a two-day summit that will mean something. And it will be heavy with objectives, real objectives that we -- we -- we need address some of these -- some these big issues.

Thank you. Thank you.

Q: Thank you, sir.

SEC. HAGEL: Okay, thank you very, very much.

(APPLAUSE) 

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