An official website of the United States Government 
Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

.gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

'A Time for American Leadership': Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the Reagan National Defense Forum (As Delivered)

Good morning, everyone. And Ben, thanks for that kind introduction.

I know you said at the outset that being Secretary of Defense has never been easy. Leon Panetta and Mark Esper said it was easy on their watch. They don’t see what the problem is.


You know, this is my third time speaking to the Reagan National Defense Forum as Secretary of Defense. So this is starting to be a habit.

We’ve got a great delegation here from the Department of Defense—including Secretary Kendall, several combatant commanders, and General C.Q. Brown and other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Let’s give them all a round of applause.


It’s also great to be joined by representatives from our allies and partners, and by distinguished members of the United States Congress.

You know, I’m always grateful for support from Congress for our mission and our troops. So while I’ve got you here—


—let me urge you to pass a full-year appropriation.


That’s the single best thing that Congress can do to strengthen our national defense.

You know, our competitors don’t have to operate under continuing resolutions. And so, doing so erodes both our security and our ability to compete.

And I also urge you to pass our urgent supplemental budget request to help fund our national-security needs, to stand by our partners in danger, and to invest in our defense industrial base.


You know, only one country on Earth can provide the kind of leadership that this moment demands. And only one country can consistently provide the powerful combination of innovation, ingenuity, and idealism—and of free minds, free enterprise, and free people.

And that’s the United States of America.


So I’d like to talk to you today about some key national-security challenges—and about the very American way that the Department of Defense is meeting them.

And let me be blunt about our mission.

The U.S. military is here to win our country’s wars—and to win them decisively.

We will always try to deter conflict. But if we have to defend our country, we will fight—and we will win.


You know, watching the news these days reminds me of one of President Reagan’s jokes. “Today,” he would say, “if someone offered us the world on a silver platter… most of us would take the platter.”


We’re living through challenging times. That includes the major conflicts facing our fellow democracies, Israel and Ukraine; bullying and coercion from an increasingly assertive China; and a worldwide battle between democracy and autocracy.

So these are the times when both our friends and our rivals look to America.

These are the times when the American people count on their leaders to come together.

And these are the times when global security relies on American unity and American strength.

President Biden calls this “an inflection point in world history.” And with his leadership, we have rallied our allies and partners to defend the rules-based international order.

Now, I know that phrase doesn’t get everybody’s pulse racing. But the rules-based international order is central to our long-term security.

It is the structure of international institutions, alliances, laws, and norms built with American leadership after the staggering losses of World War II. And those rules help ensure that nothing like World War II can ever happen again.

They help uphold sovereignty and honor borders.

They help ensure that civilians are protected, and not targeted.

And they help to punish aggression and keep bullies in check.

Since 1945, the rules-based international order has helped to give our country—and the entire world—an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity.

But peace is not self-executing. Order does not preserve itself. And security does not flower on its own.

The world built by American leadership can only be maintained by American leadership.

As President Biden has said, “American leadership is what holds the world together.”

From Russia to China, from Hamas to Iran, our rivals and foes want to divide and weaken the United States—and to split us off from our allies and partners. So at this hinge in history, America must not waver.

American leadership rallies our allies and partners to uphold our shared security. And it inspires ordinary people around the world to work together toward a brighter future.

But the troubles of our times will only grow worse without strong and steady American leadership to defend the rules-based international order that keeps us all safe.

And if we forfeit our position of responsibility, our rivals and our foes will be glad to fill the vacuum.

You know, in every generation, some Americans prefer isolation to engagement—and they try to pull up the drawbridge. They try to kick loose the cornerstone of American leadership. And they try to undermine the security architecture that has produced decades of prosperity without great-power war.

And you’ll hear some people try to brand an American retreat from responsibility as bold new leadership.

So when you hear that, make no mistake: It is not bold. It is not new. And it is not leadership.

As the old saying goes, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. And if you think American leadership is expensive, consider the price of American retreat.

Over the long sweep of American history, the cost of courage has always been dwarfed by the cost of cowardice.

And the cost of abdication has always far outweighed the cost of leadership.

The world will only become more dangerous if tyrants and terrorists believe that they can get away with wholesale aggression and mass slaughter.

And America will only become less secure if dictators believe that they can wipe a democracy off the map.

And the United States will only pay a higher price if autocrats and zealots believe that they can force free people to live in fear.

And so you can see that core insight at work in our approach to three quite different challenges: in the Middle East crisis, in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the strategic challenge from the People’s Republic of China.

On October 7th, Hamas terrorists murdered more than 1,200 Israelis—and at least 35 Americans—and took more than 200 hostages.

It was the deadliest terror attack in Israel’s history—and the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the end of the Holocaust.

Hamas massacred innocent civilians inside Israel’s borders. It murdered a 74-year-old Canadian-Israeli peace activist and grandmother who used to drive sick Palestinians from Gaza into Israel for medical treatment. It kidnapped toddlers and Holocaust survivors.

So just six days after the Hamas attack, I flew to Israel to underscore our solidarity and our resolve—and to make it crystal-clear that America’s commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad.


And so we have rushed U.S. security assistance to Israel to help it defend its people and its territory—and to help ensure that Hamas can never again commit the atrocities that we saw on October 7th.

U.S. leadership has helped in the release of dozens of hostages. And we will continue to do everything that we can to help secure the release of every man, every woman, and every child seized by Hamas—including American citizens. 


We also rapidly reinforced our force posture in the Middle East. And that strengthens our regional deterrence, better protects our forces, and helps defend Israel.

And our presence now includes two Carrier Strike Groups, an Amphibious Ready Group, a Marine Expeditionary Unit, a guided-missile submarine, integrated air-defense and missile-defense forces, and more fighter aircraft and bombers.

But as we are working to stabilize the region, Iran is raising tensions.

And after attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, our forces repeatedly struck facilities in Iraq and eastern Syria used by Iran’s IRGC and by militias affiliated with Iran.

We will not tolerate attacks on American personnel.

And so these attacks must stop.

And until they do, we will do what we need to do to protect our troops—and to impose costs on those who attack them.


Now, Israel is in a hard fight against a cruel enemy, in one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.            

But democracies like ours are stronger and more secure when we uphold the law of war. So we will continue to press Israel to protect civilians and to ensure the robust flow of humanitarian aid.

First and foremost, that’s the right thing to do. But it’s also good strategy.

You know, I learned a thing or two about urban warfare from my time fighting in Iraq and leading the campaign to defeat ISIS.

Like Hamas, ISIS was deeply embedded in urban areas. And the international coalition against ISIS worked hard to protect civilians and create humanitarian corridors, even during the toughest battles.

So the lesson is not that you can win in urban warfare by protecting civilians. The lesson is that you can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians.

You see, in this kind of a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.

So I have repeatedly made clear to Israel’s leaders that protecting Palestinian civilians in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and a strategic imperative.

And so I have personally pushed Israeli leaders to avoid civilian casualties, and to shun irresponsible rhetoric, and to prevent violence by settlers in the West Bank, and to dramatically expand access to humanitarian aid.

This week, a U.S. Air Force C-17 airlifted more than 54,000 pounds of U.N. medical supplies, warm clothing, and food to the people of Gaza—and we expect more such flights in the days ahead.

And so two things are true: any state has a duty to respond to a terrorist attack like October 7th. And every state has a duty to protect civilians during armed conflict.

And so that’s crucial as Israel works to dismantle the Hamas terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. And it will also be crucial for our work with our allies and partners after the conflict ends.

Now, it would compound this tragedy if all that awaited Israelis and Palestinians at the end of this awful war was more insecurity, more rage, and more despair. Israelis and Palestinians have both paid too bitter a price to just go back to October 6th.

So like every U.S. administration since the Six-Day War in 1967, we believe that Israelis and Palestinians must find a way to share the land that they both call home. And that means a path toward two states, living side by side in mutual security.

Now, we understand all of the difficulties. But a two-state solution remains the only viable way out of this tragic conflict that has ever been proposed. And without a horizon of hope, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remain an engine of instability, and insecurity, and human suffering.

Ladies and gentlemen, the United States will remain Israel’s closest friend in the world.

Our support for Israel’s security is non-negotiable. And it never will be.


Now, in both Israel and Ukraine, democracies are fighting ruthless foes who are out to annihilate them.

And we will not let Hamas or Putin win. And we will not let our enemies divide or weaken us.

So as we surge support into Israel, we remain focused on Ukraine.

And we remain fully able to project power, to uphold our commitments, and to direct resources to multiple theaters. 

The United States is the most powerful country on Earth. And we can walk and chew gum at the same time.


Now, I was just back in Kyiv just last week.

I had great discussions with President Zelenskyy, Minister of Defense Umerov, and General Zaluzhny. And I got to meet some of the brave Ukrainian troops who have taken back more than half of the territory grabbed by Russia since its unprovoked and unjustified invasion in February 2022.

Since then, the United States and our allies and partners have worked to get many key weapons systems—including HIMARS, and Patriots, and Abrams tanks, and more—into the hands of trained Ukrainian operators.

And so, 21 months into Putin’s failed campaign of conquest, the Russian military has been badly weakened.

Above all, that’s because of Ukraine’s incredibly brave troops. But Ukraine’s achievements also flow from bipartisan U.S. leadership—and from the coalition of some 50 countries that we’ve forged.

As President Biden has said, “Faced with a threat to the peace and stability of the world, to democratic values we hold dear, to freedom itself, we did what we always do: The United States stepped up.”

And I’m proud that our allies and partners have stepped up along with us.

But we still urgently need bipartisan support in Congress to pass the supplemental to rush security assistance to our partners in Ukraine, Israel, and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, as we rally the world to defend Ukraine, Putin has been forced to scrounge for support from the likes of Iran and North Korea.

You know, it was chilling to see a delegation from Hamas openly visit Moscow to meet with senior Russian officials just weeks after the October 7th massacre.

And so it’s no surprise that Iran is fueling conflict in both Gaza and Ukraine by giving arms to Hamas and drones to Putin.

Now, despite his isolation, Putin believes that he can outlast the Ukrainians.

But he is wrong.

The Kremlin is waging an unjust war of imperial aggression—but Ukraine is fighting a defensive war for national survival. And you can feel that urgency on the ground. And that gives Ukraine the huge strategic advantage of a just cause.

Now, Putin also thinks that he can outlast us.

He believes that our coalition will splinter, that our willpower will fade, and that our democracy will just get distracted.

But once again, Putin is wrong.

And we must continue to be clear to the American people about the stakes in Ukraine.

Ukraine matters profoundly to America and to the entire world. And it matters for four key reasons.

First, Putin’s war poses a stark and direct threat to security in Europe and beyond.

Second, Putin’s aggression is a clear challenge to our NATO allies.

Third, the Kremlin’s deliberate cruelty is an attack on our shared values of democracy and decency.

And finally, Putin’s war is a frontal assault on the international rules-based order.

So the outcome of this struggle will define global security for decades to come. And we don’t have the option of sitting it out.

So President Biden has laid down a clear objective: The United States seeks a free and sovereign Ukraine that can defend itself today—and deter more Russian aggression in the future.

And so we are working, together with our allies and partners, to help Ukraine build a future force that can ward off more Russian malice in the years to come.

If we do not stand up to the Kremlin’s naked aggression today, if we do not deter other would-be aggressors, we will only embolden them—and we will invite even more bloodshed and chaos. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine offers a grim preview of a world of tyranny and turmoil that should make us all shudder.

And that’s important far beyond Europe.

Our National Defense Strategy describes the People’s Republic of China as America’s “most consequential strategic competitor and the pacing challenge for the Department of Defense.” The PRC is our only rival with the intent—and, increasingly, the capacity—to reshape the international order.

The PRC hopes that the United States will stumble, and become isolated abroad and divided at home. But together, we can prevent that fate. And we have made extraordinary progress, along with our allies and partners, in meeting the China challenge—and forging a more secure Indo-Pacific.

In this decisive decade, 2023 will be remembered as a decisive year for implementing U.S. defense strategy in Asia.

We’re making our force posture in the Indo-Pacific far more distributed, mobile, and resilient. We’re helping our friends build up their own capabilities to defend themselves. And we’re working with our allies and partners like never before.

You know, I’ve made four trips to the Indo-Pacific this year—and with each trip, we’ve made even more progress.

In Manila this February, we announced the expansion of our Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines to allow U.S. access to four more Philippine facilities.

In New Delhi this summer, we unveiled a new roadmap for defense industrial cooperation with India. Now, that strategy is already driving our work together on key defense platforms. We also rolled out a major deal to build aircraft engines in India. And when I was back in India last month, we announced our intent to co-produce armored vehicles with India—our first time with any foreign partner.

In May, I visited Tokyo to further modernize our alliance with Japan as Japan doubles its defense budget.

In July, I became the first Secretary of Defense to visit Papua New Guinea. And we made even more history by agreeing to a Defense Cooperation Agreement between our two countries.

When I visited Seoul a couple of weeks ago, we charted a bold future for our alliance with the Republic of Korea by signing a new Tailored Deterrence Strategy. And along with our partners in Tokyo and Seoul, we made major strides in trilateral cooperation with our two great allies in Northeast Asia.

I also flew to Brisbane in July for the U.S.-Australia Ministerial Consultations, which showed that our “Unbreakable Alliance” is even stronger than ever.

And finally, we’re deepening our historic AUKUS partnership with two of our closest allies, Australia and the United Kingdom. 

Yesterday, I hosted Secretary Shapps of the U.K. and Deputy Prime Minister Marles of Australia here in California for our second AUKUS Defense Ministers’ Meeting. Through AUKUS, our three democracies are helping Australia acquire a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine. And we’re forging deeper partnerships among our defense industrial bases and our innovation ecosystems.

Now, all of this builds on a blunt military reality: allies and partners help us project power and share the burden of our common security.

But don’t just take it from me. Take it from President Reagan, who said that “our security ultimately rests” on “the confidence and cohesion” of our alliance system.

Yet our strength abroad is rooted in our strength at home—and in our ability to stay ahead of coming challenges. And that’s why we’ve pushed so hard to invest in innovation, and in our defense industrial base, and above all in our people.

You know, I had a great visit yesterday at our Defense Innovation Unit in Silicon Valley. DIU focuses on fielding and scaling commercial technology across the military. It’s directly plugged into Silicon Valley, working with venture-capital firms and tech innovators who are often doing business with DOD for the first time. And it will help us deliver thousands of game-changing capabilities at speed and at scale.

When we sharpen our tech edge, we expand our military edge.

That’s why we’re making such major investments in innovation. And we’re giving the American taxpayer extraordinary value—even while our spending on national defense, as a percentage of GDP, remains about half of what it was during the last decade of the Cold War.

The Department’s budget request includes $145 billion for R&D and $170 billion for procurement. Now those are the largest such investments in U.S. history.

We’re also making major investments in Combined Joint All-Domain Command and Control. And those investments will make us even better at joint operations and combat integration.

To remain nimble, we’ve also created the Office of Strategic Capital, which will help attract and scale private capital in our critical technologies.

We’re also making unprecedented use of the multi-year procurement authorities provided by Congress to deliver critical munitions at affordable costs. This includes the Naval Strike Missile; the maritime-strike SM-6 missile; and the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile.

Now, Ukraine’s high burn rate for artillery has hammered home the need to invest even more in munitions. So compared to the defense budget from just five years ago, we’re putting nearly 50 percent more money into munitions.

And during this administration, America’s production of artillery shells won’t just increase. It won’t just double. It will quadruple.

Meanwhile, we’ve launched what the Army calls “the most ambitious modernization effort in nearly 40 years” for our defense industrial base.

Some $50 billion of our supplemental budget request would flow through our defense industrial base. And that will create or support tens of thousands of good American jobs in more than 30 states. That includes making missiles in Arizona; vehicles in Wisconsin and Indiana; and artillery shells in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas.

And that all means greater prosperity at home and greater security around the globe.

And that brings me to one final strategic advantage that no competitor can match.

And that is nearly 3.4 million American patriots who protect our country every day, either by serving in uniform or as civilians of the Department.

Our people rise to every challenge. And I am determined to do right by them, and their families.

So this year, we secured a 4.6 percent pay raise for our troops and civilian workers—which was the largest in two decades.

We increased our Basic Allowance for Housing this year by an average of 12.1 percent—the largest percentage increase in 15 years.

We’re working to provide universal pre-K at our DOD schools, offering Flexible Savings Accounts to make childcare more affordable, and giving 12 weeks of paid parental leave to service members.

We’re making it easier for our outstanding military spouses to flourish in their own careers, including new benefits and new ways to help agencies and companies retain military spouses when their families are ordered to move abroad.

We are one team, and we don’t have one single teammate to spare.

And so we will not tolerate sexual assault or sexual harassment in the U.S. military. By the end of this month, independent military prosecutors will tackle cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, and other serious crimes.

And we are driving hard to reduce the tragedy of suicide in our ranks by improving the delivery of mental-health care and ending the old stigmas of seeking help.

And we do all this for one simple reason: our people are the greatest strategic asset that we have.

The U.S. military is the most lethal fighting force in human history. And we’re going to keep it that way.


Ladies and gentlemen, we are the United States of America. And it’s not enough just to pursue our national interests. We must also live our national values.

As President Reagan said, “Our foreign policy should be to show by example the greatness of our system and the strength of American ideals.”

And we must ensure, as President Biden has said, that America remains “a beacon to the world.”

And we will not let that beacon flicker or fade.

And so in this uncertain hour, at this time of testing, the world looks to America again.

And we must not give our friends, our rivals, or our foes any reason to doubt America’s resolve.

You know, in times like these… ordinary people can show extraordinary courage.

And that’s exactly what I saw last week in Kyiv.

I saw a proud, bustling city in the heart of mainland Europe. And it is in the gunsights because of one man’s hubris and fury.

But the Ukrainian people have met Putin’s assault with defiance, resilience, wit, and yes, even grace.

You can see it in the eyes of the troops fighting to drive out the Russian invaders.

And you can see it in the determination of the citizens of Kyiv.

Ukraine reminds the world of the moral power of a free people fighting to defend their sovereign territory, their democracy, and their future.

And as Americans, we must do no less.

So let us come together to make our union more perfect, and our country more secure, and our world more just.

Let us come together to rally the nations of goodwill to the cause of human freedom.

And let us come together to meet this moment.

Thank you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

[Standing ovation]