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Remarks by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Dr. Colin Kahl at the IISS Manama Dialogue (As Delivered)

I want to thank IISS for convening the Manama Dialogue. Obviously, you all know that this annual gathering is the critical regional forum for exchanging views on trends shaping the Middle East and debating policy approaches for enabling the leaders, governments and peoples of this critical part of the world to identify opportunities as well as risks to stability, security and prosperity.

I also extend warm greetings from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to His Majesty King Hamad, His Highness and Crown Prince -- the Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman, and to the Bahrani government and people.

In his remarks here last year, Secretary Austin discussed the strategic imperative of partnership. He outlined threats that transcend borders, from the climate crisis to pandemics, from cybersecurity to state and non-state terrorism, and to the perpetual instability of governments that seek to deny their citizens fundamental rights and freedoms. Finally, he called for updating and upgrading partnerships in order to effectively address these challenges.

It is this theme, the imperative of partnership, that I want to focus my remarks on this evening. As Secretary Austin underscored last year, the United States is fully committed to its partners, not only our long-standing bilateral relationships but also multilaterally through the concept of what we call integrated deterrence.

This concept of integrated deterrence is a cornerstone of the National Defense Strategy, which Tom mentioned was released in unclassified form just a couple of weeks ago, and the National Defense Strategy, or NDS, as we call it, makes clear that building the architecture of integrated deterrence means making synchronized investments in cutting edge military capabilities and concepts across all domains, not just land, air and sea but cyberspace and outer space; deliberately working to enhance interoperability and secure communications across defense sectors; and maintaining a robust schedule of exercises and training to stress test progress and identify areas for improving our potential for collective action.

At the strategic level, one of the most important elements of integrated deterrence is leveraging our unrivaled network of partners to build large and effective coalitions to advance common security objectives. And that is exactly what the United States is doing in the Middle East, building a regional architecture together with our partners in order to enhance cooperation, deter adversaries, and set the terms for a more stable, more integrated future.

That is present every single day in the experimentation, innovation, exercises and training that U.S. Central Command is leading. It is evident in the unwavering leadership of the United States that we continue to provide to the 85 member strong Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS across multiple administrations in Washington. It was clear when Secretary Blinken participated in the Negev Summit in March and when the U.S.-GCC Defense Working Groups convened in Riyadh the same month. The United States is ready to convene both of these forums again soon alongside our partners.

President Biden underscored this commitment himself when he traveled to Jeddah for the GCC + 3 Summit in July. The Jeddah summit featured commitments to collaborative work on renewable energy, energy market stability, innovation, non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, food security, and upholding the principles of international law, in addition to the imperatives of air and missile defense and maritime security.

During the … this historic visit, President Biden reiterated the importance the United States places on its decades-long strategic partnerships in the Middle East region while also affirming his enduring commitment to the security and territorial defense of U.S. partners.

Given this region's increasingly important role as a global trade and technology crossroads, President Biden articulated a framework toward the Middle East based on five principles.

First, the United States will support and strengthen partnerships with countries that subscribe to the rules-based international order, and we will make sure those countries can defend themselves against foreign threats.

Second, the United States will not allow foreign or regional powers to jeopardize freedom of navigation through the Middle East waterways, nor tolerate efforts by any country to dominate another or the region through military buildups, incursions, or threats.

Third, even as the United States works to deter threats to regional stability, we will work to reduce tensions, deescalate and end conflicts wherever possible through diplomacy.

Fourth, the United States will promote regional integration by building political, economic and security connections between and among U.S. partners, including through integrated air and maritime defense structures, while respecting each country's sovereignty and independent choices.

Fifth and finally, the United States will continue to promote human rights and the values enshrined in the UN Charter.

I reiterate these principles to make clear that despite occasional disagreements, the United States remains committed to the region. We're here and we're not going anywhere. This administration believes that our collective security will benefit from a more integrated coalition of partners, synchronizing actions across political, economic and security sectors, all within the framework of a rules-based international order.

The good news is that we are already moving in this direction. The United States, together with our partners, are moving towards an integrated air and maritime security, increased intelligence sharing and cyber cooperation in planning for multilateral crisis response.

At the same time, looking around the globe, the challenges this coalition faces could not be more acute. In the past year, the world has witnessed the most aggressive threat to the rules-based international order we have seen in decades.

In Europe, Russia chose a ruthless, reckless war to try to change by force the borders of its neighbor, Ukraine, seeking to destroy Ukraine's sovereignty, independence and freedom. Putin's world view rejects the law -- the rule of law in favor of the law of the jungle. Instead of an international community rooted in mutual respect, shared responsibility and coordinated action, Putin seeks to enforce an outdated view in which small states subordinate national aspirations to the sphere of influence of larger ones.

Let's be crystal clear about the implications of Putin's actions because they extend far beyond Europe. Putin is not only threatening transatlantic peace and security. Left unchecked, Russia's actions would embolden would-be aggressors in other theaters, especially in the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific.

The starkest reminder that one region's problems do not stay in that region is the Iranian transfer of attack drones and possibly missiles to the battlefield in Ukraine. Iranian drones are killing Ukrainian civilians, just as they have struck targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, targeted Israeli and U.S. forces, and attacked international shipping.

But these weapons and their proliferators can be defeated. For example, Ukraine's Armed Forces are shooting down Iranian drones. We estimate that Ukraine has successfully engaged at least 50 percent of Iranian drones employed by Russian forces, using everything from guided missiles to small arms. Ukraine has even developed a simple mobile phone application to allow civilians to report drones in order to increase the probability of successful engagements.

In the face of this threat, the United States is working with our allies and partners from around the world to deter and disrupt Iran's UAV program before they hit the battlefield and we are strengthening Ukraine's air defenses to protect their territory and people from Iran-proliferated drones after launch.

Since the beginning of the Biden administration, the United States has committed more than $18.9 billion in security assistance to support the brave forces in Ukraine and we have marshaled additional support from some 50 countries.

In fact, you just saw that this week when Secretary Austin convened the monthly Ukraine Defense Contact Group that was started in Ramstein several months ago, and it now convenes about four dozen countries every month to rally international support for Ukraine. We have also coordinated a diplomatic pressure campaign to isolate Russia while rallying the international community to impose punishing economic sanctions on Moscow.

In Europe, the United States and NATO allies have been exercising, training and coordinating investments in military capabilities and interoperability for decades. Why do I mention that? Because it was that foundation of cooperation that is now delivering results in real time, as we speak, providing a clear example that when coalitions of like-minded states cooperate, the power and the partnership is palpable.

Now, even as Russia employs Iranian drones to rain down on Ukrainian cities, some in this region believe that engagement with Putin can drive a wedge between Moscow and Tehran. But this approach did not deliver in Syria, when Russia and Iran doubled down in support of a brutal dictatorship. And it is even more unlikely to work now given Russia's reliance on Iranian weapons for its war in Ukraine.

Indeed, a declining and isolated Russia is not only more firmly in Tehran's camp but is more likely to find common cause with China and North Korea, in pursuit of policies that challenge the norms and rules that benefit every citizen, government, company, and non-government organization in this room and across the globe.

As our National Defense Strategy makes clear, while Russia presents an acute threat, the PRC is the only country that has both the intent and increasingly the economic, diplomatic, military and technological capabilities to fundamentally reshape the rules-based international order.

The PRC's pressure campaign against Taiwan threatens peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, which is critical to global security and prosperity. And its military activities in the South China Sea demonstrate its willingness to threaten and coerce smaller nations to fit their preferences.

In the Middle East, we should all be clear-eyed about the PRC's playbook. The PRC has no interest in mutually beneficial coalitions and Beijing has neither the intent nor the capability to integrate the region's security architecture. The PRC pursues ties based solely on its narrow, transactional, commercial, and geopolitical interests, period.

Meanwhile, Beijing's narrative of neutral engagement conveniently allows it to play both sides, it can attend red carpet regional summits in countries directly threatened by Iran while expanding ties to Tehran, all while -- while bypassing meaningful investments in regional security or stability.

Our approach is different. As the recently published National Security Strategy makes clear, and I quote, "The United States will promote regional integration in the Middle East by building political, economic and security connections between and among U.S. partners, including through integrated air and maritime defense structures while respecting each country's sovereignty and independent choices."

I repeat that phrase for a reason. It is at the center of our approach to the region. This is a critical difference between our vision, which aims to preserve the autonomy of all states as we strive to collectively build a regional security architecture, and that of our rivals, which does not.

It has almost become cliché to say that we have entered a new age of competition but let me make clear this is not a competition of countries, it is a competition of coalitions.

Through this lens of coalition building, our National Defense Strategy is focused on combining our strengths to maximum effect, through integrated deterrence, by campaigning to disrupt maligned behavior and push back against the full range of competitors' coercive actions, and by undertaking reforms and making investments within our own Defense Department and defense enterprise to build enduring advantages.

These lines of effort will enhance U.S. contributions not only to our own security but to the coalitions that we support around the world and make us a better partner. And to achieve this, we are moving away from old ways of thinking about the requirements for security.

In the future, success and how we fight will not be determined by the simple arithmetic of boots on the ground but rather by maintaining our readiness to rapidly respond by flowing forces where they are needed globally and to seamlessly fall in with interoperable allies and partners.

That is why we are taking steps now to improve information sharing and interoperability across domains and to establish mechanisms for collective action and shared funding. We are focused on how we bring together our peoples, our capabilities, and our allies and partners to achieve impact.

The United States has already demonstrated that embracing these shifts can deliver results. In just the last year, the United States demonstrated our ability to project power and logistics across the globe, harness an unmatched intelligence capability and fuse it with combat-tested forces to deliver results that benefit the globe.

In July, we delivered justice to the leader of Al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in Afghanistan without forces on the ground.

In northwest Syria, where U.S. forces are not present, we twice executed counter-terrorism operations against high value ISIS leaders.

In the lead up to Russia's full scale invasion of Ukraine, we deployed tens of thousands of forces to Europe's Eastern Flank in a matter of days.

Recently, we worked to quickly share intelligence and bolster defenses for Saudi Arabia against an emerging threat from Iran, aligning our assets to achieve collaborative deterrence.

And concurrent with all of these actions, we demonstrated our ability to keep faith with our global partners all over the world, completing over 200 exercises worldwide over the past year alone.

As we look to the future, how does this paradigm shift apply to the Middle East and what does this coalition do for security here in the region?

When it comes to Iran, there's broad agreement that Iran's activities are a fundamental source of instability roiling this region.

Whether it is Iran's dangerous nuclear steps, its cultivation of violent terrorist groups and militias, its proliferation of advanced conventional weapons and attack drones, its maritime aggression, its dangerous cyber activities, ongoing repression inside Iran and its continued threats against foreign officials abroad, the consensus is that to meaningfully push back, we must work together.

Meanwhile, Israel's entry into U.S. Central Command and the historic Abraham Accords have opened the door to security cooperation with the region's most combat-tested military and intelligence professionals. The opportunities to share early warning, integrate air defense capabilities, expand maritime domain awareness could not come at a better time. And through the Negev process, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, and the UAE and the United States are deepening regional efforts to work together, from defense to food security to clean energy. Through these efforts, we are advancing security, prosperity and peace for the region and for all of its inhabitants. When others are ready to help expand this circle of peace and security, the door is open with the United States standing by your side.

Broad cooperation in the fight against ISIS and Al-Qaida also offers proof of what we can achieve when we work together against common threats. Together with local partners and a global coalition, we rolled back the ISIS caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

The leadership of many of you here today is directly responsible for the dismantling of terrorist networks and assistance to vulnerable populations but there is still more work to do. We must stay the course and continue to expand and improve our coalition to fight the stateless extremist organizations that continue to threaten our security.

As we seek to capitalize on new opportunities for cooperation, we can leverage technology faster and more effectively by bringing together advances from the commercial sector, sharing information, and working with allies and partners. The pace of technological change demands that we do business differently, and CENTCOM has become a critical hub for innovation and experimentation.

You can see this in the innovation that the U.S. Navy is doing here in the Middle East with Task Force 59 -- I had the privilege of visiting them today -- integrating unmanned systems and artificial intelligence in the maritime operations and convening the largest multinational uncrewed exercise in the world.

The U.S. Air Force, meanwhile, is working together with our longstanding partners in the Middle East through Task Force 99, standing up partner innovation cells at bases and experimenting with variable payloads on small drones.

And the region itself is moving fast to embrace the opportunity of technology, with the United States in a supporting role. The U.S.-Saudi Combined Expeditionary Robotics Operations Center is a great example of the -- of the innovation emerging from within this region.

Even as the United States upgrades its approach to security, our commitment to the region is enduring. That has been true for decades and it remains true today. We led coalitions in the Gulf War and again to defeat the ISIS caliphate. As I speak, we maintain a potent force posture and military capability in this part of the world. And day after day, we are enhancing interoperability, aligning investment in new technology and innovation, and expanding the circle of partnership.

In short, the United States remains committed to using all instruments of our national power to further peace, promote stable economies, and deter aggression in this vital region and around the world, and as we do, we will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and partners to win the competition of coalitions that is so crucial to our common security.

Thank you very much. I look forward to the conversation.