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Reagan National Defense Forum Keynote Remarks

Good afternoon, and thank you Brett for that kind introduction. I also want to thank the Reagan Institute for inviting me here today. I've attended this forum every year since its inception in 2012, and I have found this to be an incredibly important venue to discuss the state of our national defense.

It's quite fitting to have this discussion here at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to pay tribute to a leader who did so much to enhance our military's strength and our nation's security during a time of profound consequence and change – like today.

When President Reagan took office, he faced a Herculean task: building a military capable of defeating the Soviet Union. He got to work, highlighting the dangers of insufficient defense spending and the readiness shortfalls that plagued the force. He secured substantial budget increases from Congress and advocated reforms that cut the costs of defense programs and delivered savings back to the Department.

He spoke fiercely about peace through strength, and launched a major effort to modernize our nuclear arsenal. He hailed innovation and R&D funding as the key to American advantage over our adversaries. He articulated this vision of American strength and global engagement in our nation’s first ever National Security Strategy. And most importantly, he inspired us, and he restored our confidence.

Reagan brought to the forefront a commitment to American values – values such as freedom, human rights, and adherence to the rule of law. He embodied these ideals as he rallied against the threat of communism. He stood for peace during nuclear weapons negotiations with the Soviet Union. And he championed liberty and opportunity in Berlin when he called on Gorbachev to ''tear down this wall.''

To say the world has changed since then would be an understatement. But President Reagan's vision and strategies to secure peace – for America and for the world – remain as relevant today as they were in his time. In this new era of great power competition, our warfighting advantages over strategic competitors are being challenged. The international, rules-based order is increasingly under attack. China and Russia, today's revisionist powers, are modernizing their militaries while seeking veto power over the economic and security decisions of other nations.

China's economic rise has allowed it to triple its annual military spending since 2002, with estimates reaching close to $250 billion last year. Beijing continues to violate the sovereignty of Indo-Pacific nations and expand its control abroad under the pretense of Belt-and-Road infrastructure investments. Meanwhile, it is pursuing competitive advantages – often in illicit ways – in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and 5G, while exploiting other nations' intellectual property for its own gain.

Russia is another nation intent on upending international norms through its aggressive foreign policy, broken treaty obligations, nuclear intimidation, and cyber operations. It has violated the borders of its neighbors in the pursuit of regional dominance, and turned to coercion and hybrid tactics as a means to regain strategic advantage.

Elsewhere, we face ongoing threats from rogue regimes, including North Korea's nuclear weapons program, and Iran's continued efforts to destabilize the Middle East. And around the world, terrorist organizations such as ISIS continue to pose a threat to the United States and our allies. This environment presents us with a host of challenges we must overcome to compete, deter, and, if necessary, to fight and win tomorrow's wars.

Winning future battles requires us to contend with our competitors' growing anti-access/area denial capabilities, hypersonic weapons, anti-satellite systems, and other emerging technologies. We must develop and deploy new warfighting doctrine, including multi-domain operations and command and control, to be prepared to fight not just in the air, on land, and at sea, but also in space and cyberspace.

This requires a robust defense budget and continued investments in our readiness and modernization. It requires us to make tough choices to ensure our resources go to the right priorities. It requires an emphasis on innovation and cutting-edge technologies. And, it requires us to leverage our growing network of allies and partners.

The National Defense Strategy remains our guiding beacon to meet these needs. It's an honor to have its architect, former Secretary Mattis, here with us today. Our focus is on three major lines of effort: enhancing our military's readiness and lethality; strengthening our alliances and attracting new partners; and reforming the Department to make sure our finite resources are directed toward our highest priorities.

Alongside the NDS, we are also placing renewed emphasis on taking care of our service members and their families, because we know that people are our most valuable resource. Since releasing the NDS, we have invested in new equipment, improved operational readiness, and continued to modernize our nuclear deterrent forces.

For example, we are developing next-generation smart munitions across our Services. We are procuring advanced fighter jets. We are modernizing all three legs of the nuclear triad and investing in our missile defense program to protect the homeland. We are developing unmanned naval vessels and improving the readiness of our fleet. And we are developing a new generation of ground fighting vehicles.

The Department continues to invest in advanced technologies that will help us maintain our tactical advantage, such as artificial intelligence, directed energy, robotics, and hypersonic weapons. Our current Research and Development budget is the largest it's been in 70 years, growing funding for space by 15 percent and cyber by 10 percent. While our adversaries seek to surpass us in developing these cutting-edge technologies, we must press ahead to preserve our long-held battlefield overmatch.

We are well on our way to doing so; for example, we established United States Space Command and are modernizing our space capabilities. We increased our investments in both offensive and defensive cyberspace programs to boost resiliency against adversaries. We stood up the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to be ahead of the curve in machine learning. And we are identifying ways to leverage Big Data to gain efficiencies across the Department.

Meanwhile, we are working to re-allocate our forces and equipment to priority theaters that enable us to better compete with China and Russia. As part of our Dynamic Force Employment, we will deter aggression by becoming more operationally unpredictable to complicate adversary decision-making. This will require us to adjust our force posture around the world to become more responsive to – and more ready for – future threats.

It also requires us to maintain a robust network of allies and partners. We recognize that they are an inherent strategic advantage our opponents do not possess. To bolster our collective security, we continue to emphasize burden sharing – and it’s working. Since 2016, our NATO allies have invested an additional $130 billion annually in defense. Nine NATO member states currently meet the 2 percent GDP commitment and many more are on the path to reaching that goal by 2024.

We continue to add more partners to global efforts to deter aggression, such as the International Maritime Security Construct in the Strait of Hormuz, and the more nascent Integrated Air and Missile Defense effort to protect critical infrastructure in the Middle East. And we have secured greater host nation support in countries where U.S. troops are stationed overseas.

Full implementation of the NDS, however, relies on more than just new concepts, smart investments, and robust relationships. To be effective in an era of great power competition, it also requires us to reform. This means revisiting our industrial-era management structures and processes that were born during the Cold War. The leadership team across the Department – OSD, Joint Staff, Services, and Combatant Commands – must achieve a new level of integration and results with far greater speed than the Pentagon bureaucracy has traditionally accommodated. We need shared goals, management based on data, and accountability for NDS outcomes.

To align our efforts, we have made major changes to our battle rhythm. Every week, all the Department's senior leaders, uniformed and civilian, now meet as a leadership team to measure progress toward implementing the NDS. This is a significant management shift inside the Pentagon. We are committed to fully implementing the strategy at every level, and I’m proud to report we have already made solid progress.

However, to keep up this momentum, we depend on a predictable, sufficient, and timely budget. Under President Trump’s leadership, and with the support of Congress, the Department’s recent budgets have allowed us to rebuild our warfighting readiness, which had been depleted due to several years of insufficient funding and numerous continuing resolutions. Last year's budget allowed us to really begin modernizing the force and increasing lethality to meet future warfighting demands. Our 2020 budget – and beyond – will drive those modernization efforts and ensure their long-term success.

We understand that the nation's resources are limited. To enable sustained investment in critical next-generation capabilities, our future budgets must free up those resources by divesting from legacy systems and low priority activities. We need your support to get this done. After all, great power competition is not solely the concern of the Department of Defense. The rising theft of intellectual property, cyber intrusions into public and private networks, and state-backed market manipulation are consequences of China's growing power. These activities erode our industrial base and make American innovation vulnerable to exploitation. Everyone in this room is impacted by this reality.

To further complicate matters, the Department of Defense remains hamstrung by the ongoing continuing resolution. Every day under a CR is a day we are competing with China and Russia with one hand tied behind our back. This summer's budget agreement showed great promise, but unfortunately, we are still operating at a level $19 billion below the topline. In fact, we continue to lose nearly $5 billion in buying power for every quarter we remain under a CR. That is why I continue to call on Congress to pass an appropriations bill that provides our service members the support they deserve, and allows the Department to fully implement the National Defense Strategy.

In addition, we need Congress to grant us the authorities required to maintain an edge over our adversaries in every warfighting domain, to include space. It is essential that this year’s NDAA fully authorize the creation of the Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces.

Within the Department, we are implementing aggressive reforms to free up time, money, and manpower to put back into our highest priorities. The week after I was confirmed, we launched the Defense-Wide Review to begin reforming the Fourth Estate. In just four months of work, we have saved over $5 billion. By decreasing overhead, divesting legacy activities, and reducing lower priority programs, we are able to invest more in the warfighting requirements of each Service.

However, we can't do this without the backing of Congress. When our budget comes to the Hill next year, I ask you to support our proposals and enact the legislative changes needed to get these reforms across the finish line. And to be clear, this is just the beginning. I expect every leader in each military Service, in OSD, in the Joint Staff, and in the Combatant Commands, to review their budgets with the same rigor, and reprioritize to support the NDS. We will continue this process early next year as we start looking at the 2021 budget to ensure we make the most of every taxpayer dollar.

The security of the United States of America – and in fact the world – depends on our willingness to prepare for an uncertain future. As I meet my counterparts throughout my travels, I am reminded just how much other nations desire American presence and leadership. They look to us to deter aggression, to help build their military capacity, and to promote American values, like freedom and respect for the rule of law. The United States plays a unique role in the world as a beacon of those principles.

In his farewell address, President Reagan recounted a story from the early 1980s about an American sailor on the carrier Midway in the South China Sea. As his crew saved a boat full of refugees escaping communist control in Southeast Asia, one of those refugees called out to the sailor, ''Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man.'' America was synonymous with freedom then, as it still is today. Our service members were seen across the world as sentinels of that freedom then, as they are today. And Reagan understood that American military power was the key to security and prosperity then, just as it is today.

The United States military will continue to demonstrate leadership across the globe; we will continue to uphold American values; and, as President Reagan championed, we will continue to promote peace through strength. Thank you, and I look forward to our discussion.