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DOD Policy Chief Says 'Even Michael Jordan Needed 4 Other Bulls'

Americans need to understand how crucial allies and partners are to U.S. national security strategies, Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy said during a Pentagon media briefing today.

Kahl spoke to the media before leaving to accompany President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III to the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.


NATO is arguably the most successful alliance in world history — preventing great power wars for almost 75 years now. Still, there are many Americans who believe the United States doesn't need allies and partners. "I don't think it's a partisan point to say that … there were at least some in the previous administration that didn't value our allies and partners in quite the way that we do," Kahl said.

Allies, partners and friends are key to the National Defense Strategy. "We use these fancy jargons, like 'asymmetric advantage' and 'network of allies and partners'," Kahl said. "But what it really adds up to … and the average person in a bar can understand, is that international relations is a team sport." 

The United States is not only the most powerful country in the world, it is "the most powerful country in the history of the world," Kahl said. "We have the best military in the world, we have the best military in the history of the world. As powerful as we are, as capable as our military is, there is no problem that comes across my desk where I say, 'what would make this easier if we had to do this all by ourselves.'" 

Michael Jordan may have been the best basketball player to ever play the game, Kahl said. But, "even if you're Michael Jordan, you'd like to have four other Bulls with you on the court," he said. "It's a team sport."

The world sees an example of this every day with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia's war of choice on its neighbor may be the greatest threat to the geopolitical order since the end of World War II, Kahl said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin started the war thinking "that NATO would buckle, weaken, fray, [and] shatter apart," the undersecretary said. "The exact opposite has happened. NATO is stronger; the defense commitments are going up; you're going to see manifestations of that unity this week in Vilnius." 

These united efforts to deter attacks strengthens the NATO alliance and that makes the United States safer, he said. NATO is not charity to Europe, and the example stretches far beyond Europe, Kahl said.

A man speaks from a podium.
Press Briefing
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin H. Kahl briefs reporters at the Pentagon, July 7, 2023.
Photo By: DOD screengrab
VIRIN: 230707-D-D0439-2001

This unity makes the world safer from Russian aggression, but also aggression from other nations who might take lessons from the Russians.  

In the Indo-Pacific, China is the pacing challenge for the United States — the most significant and consequential strategic competitor. "We're not going to win that competition on our own," Kahl said.  

There are things the United States has done and will do, he said, and cited investments the country has made in science and technology and the infrastructure acts. "It's why we are making massive investments in defense, modernization and why there's bipartisan consensus around all of that," he said. "But we are not going to best China in this competition alone. We need to get our team together."

He pointed to the Australia-United Kingdom-United States agreements and an example of ties to allies that helps all. He pointed to changes in force structure and force footprints in Australia, and the defense posture changes in Japan. He also noted the deepening of alliances with the Philippines and the Republic of Korea. He called the dialogue with India "the strategic opportunity of a lifetime." 

"We are putting real points on the board, because we are leaning into our existing alliances and building out our partnerships," he said. "If we are going to win the rest of the 21st century, that's how we are going to win it — alongside our teammates."

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