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Remarks at Atlantik Brücke: "U.S., Germany, & NATO Are Moving Forward Together"

Thank you so much, Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen.  Thank you.  More about her in just a moment.

But first, Guten Morgen.  Ich freue mich sehr hier in Berlin zu sein, danke Ihnen fuer das herzliche Willkommen.

I hope that makes my instructors at the Goethe Institute in Rothenburg ob der Tauber long ago, Brigitte [unclear], if you’re still around, thank you.  I hope I made you proud.

I want to thank all of you for coming together today to talk about the future of the U.S.-German partnership and the Transatlantic relationship, and I’m pleased to say that future is incredibly bright. 

We have many people to thank for that.  Ambassador John Emerson has done a remarkable job deepening ties here.  Thank you, John.  I’d also like to thank Atlantik-Brücke, its Chairman Friedrich Merz and Executive Director Eveline Metzen for hosting us today and doing so much to support the Transatlantic relationship.  Thank you.

And I, more importantly we, must thank Defense Minister von der Leyen.  I knew from our first meeting that she would be an excellent colleague and a fierce advocate for Germany’s men and women in uniform.

Just as I studied in Germany, she studied in California at Stanford.  I value her remarkable candor as she pursues defense reforms and explores ways to attract more men and women to military service, two initiatives that I also focus on in America’s military.  I welcome her advocacy for an increased German leadership role, and I appreciate her willingness to challenge convention.  I can think of no better representative for Germany’s military and for Germany’s leadership in NATO and Europe. I look forward to continuing our visit today and in the days ahead and in deepening the U.S.-Germany partnership in the years ahead.

We gather here during a year when history fills the air and at a moment when we have the opportunity to continue the dramatic progress this continent has made in recent decades.  For even as we face challenges in Europe’s south and Europe’s east, and also around the world, we do so with unique advantages as a community. 

At a time when some have suggested our relationship is suffering from a crisis and others have questioned the staying power of our partnership, we know better.  The new threats facing Europe have revealed more of our collective strengths and our collective shortcomings.  And our unity – so powerful when intact – will help assure Transatlantic security and ensure that we move forward together. 

And as we think about our future, we gain confidence from our shared history.  There were many symbolic ends to the Cold War.  The most obvious, and welcome and well-known happened just outside these doors when the Berlin Wall was torn down and the Brandenburg Gate reopened.  But for many, the Cold War ended on more personal terms.  For some, it was the opportunity to visit a family in East Berlin or to study abroad. 

For me, it was when the last nuclear weapon rolled out of Ukraine.  I was there in Pervomaysk that summer day in 1996 when sunflowers were planted where a missile silo once stood.  As someone who dedicated the early part of his career to understanding – thankfully theoretically – the technical and terrible nature of nuclear weapons, it demonstrated that the world could indeed change that day.  That despite human nature’s very real need for security, a country could choose to give up nuclear weapons.

In this year of anniversaries we can look back on decades of decisions that brought us to this point.  And 70 years after the end of World War II, 60 years after the western part of a divided Germany entered NATO, and 25 years after Germany’s reunification we can see remarkable progress here in Berlin and around Europe. 

That progress was made possible by shared interests, shared history, shared sacrifices, and most critically, a shared commitment to democratic principles and a rules- and norms-based international order.  But it was made real by the brave choices and steps taken by individuals here in Germany, in the United States and throughout all of Europe.  Some steps were bigger, like NATO and EU enlargement; some were smaller, like restoring the Reichstag and reopening the American embassy near here.  All those choices mattered.

Today we can and will make choices like that again.  One only needs to take a walk outside these doors to see the good that unity can do. 

The success in bustling Berlin, around Germany, and throughout Europe demonstrate the value of the choices we’ve made together since the end of World War II and the Cold War.  And while we cannot predict the future, by choosing to preserve our unity and secure the rules-based international order that got us here, we can ensure that the future remains bright and that it’s widely available to all.

Europeans, like all people, deserve the right to live in peace, to be part of a healthy economy, and to decide the form of government they want for themselves. 

That’s why we must work together to tie our trade and economies closer.  That’s why we must continue to deepen the cultural and educational exchanges that Ursula and my youths represent and that already make our citizens smarter and better prepared for their future.  And because none of the rest, none of the rest is possible without security, we need to confront new security challenges to Europe’s south and east.

To the south, terrorism and state failure have put tremendous pressures on countries in North Africa and the Middle East.  Instability has caused waves of migration, stressing law enforcement and domestic institutions throughout Europe.  And around the continent, thousands of radicalized individuals have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq, and some seek to return. 

ISIL poses a grave threat to Europe, the United States and our friends and allies around the world because of it steady metastasis and its evil intentions.  The United States is working with a global coalition including Germany to help extricate ISIL from its safe haven, build partner capacity and deliver ISIL a lasting defeat.  I’m confident we’ll do so.

To the east, Russia has used its political, economic and military power to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighboring countries, flouted international legal norms, and destabilized the European security order by attempting to annex Crimea and continuing to fuel further violence in eastern Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, as Russia aggressively modernizes its military capabilities and warfighting doctrine, it’s also actively seeking to undermine NATO and to erode the security and economic ties that bind us all together.  And after violating the longstanding INF Treaty, Moscow’s nuclear sabre rattling raises questions about Russia’s commitment to strategic stability and causes us…to wonder about their respect…and whether they continue to respect the profound caution…that world leaders in the nuclear age have shown over decades to the brandishing of nuclear weapons.

The challenges from both the south and the east are different, but both must be addressed with equal vigor.  Both require new 21st Century approaches and both the threats – and our responses – to them will define the future of Europe’s security in the Transatlantic community for years to come.

To meet these challenges and secure our bright future the United States is pleased to see this great nation choose to make important contributions to international peace and security and be poised to provide leadership and security commensurate with its economic and political weight.

Twenty years since Germany offered military support to UN peacekeepers and later to the NATO mission in Bosnia, Germany has been playing an important role in some of the most difficult challenges facing the world and the Transatlantic community.

Today Germany is playing a leading role in the effort to diffuse the Russia-Ukraine crisis and sending military support and observers to the OSCE mission in Ukraine. 

Germany continues its leadership role in Afghanistan, supplying significant forces to NATO’s Resolute Support mission. 

Germany’s participated in the P5+1 Talks that seek to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. 

And most recently, Germany is providing critical training and capabilities to the fight against ISIL in northern Iraq. 

These are hard challenges and Europe, the United States, and the world are safer for Germany’s leadership in them. As the Secretary of Defense I’d like to thank the German government and particularly the German Bundestag for advancing and sustaining Germany military deployments and efforts that promote our mutual security.

I know there’s a vibrant debate underway on Germany’s global responsibilities, one component of which is the role of Germany’s military power.  The United States is pleased that Germany is willing to open a discussion on the constitutional parameters governing security and defense activities here.  And we’re pleased that after almost ten years a new defense White Book is being written to consider the changed strategic environment and to help set your priorities. 

I am committed, and the Department of Defense is prepared to support these important efforts.  The United States and Germany need to explore more concrete ways to work together. 

Generational bonds once made this a bit easier, but times have changed and remembrance of the past will only carry our relationships so far -- especially as memories fade.  As the world changes, issues will arise that we need to solve together such as the relationship between technology, privacy and security.  And while differences between friends are natural, we must remember that our relationship is always rooted in shared interests, shared values, and our common security.

We cannot take this for granted.  The United States and Germany should continue to revitalize our relationship and find new ways to extend the bonds of friendship.  To enhance…enhance our military ties I’m pleased that together we have established a Transatlantic Capability Enhancement and Training Initiative –TACET – to further coordinate our military activities, training and exercises, thus strengthening what we’re capable of doing together. 

That cooperation and Germany’s willingness to step up are indispensable to Transatlantic security. But we also must assure that NATO, long the gold standard in alliances, continues to evolve to meet new types of threats and secure the bright future that can be ours. 

Last fall in Wales, NATO’s 28 leaders agreed to several powerful steps.  Steps that together represent one of the most significant efforts in the history of the alliance.  NATO has nearly doubled the number of military exercises in just one year; set up new command centers; reorganized the NATO Response Force; and established the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, or VJTF.  Later today Defense Minister von der Leyen and I will…travel to Münster and visit with that VJTF brigade led this year by Germany and fresh from an exercise that demonstrated its ability to deploy on 48 hours’ notice from multiple locations in Europe to any crisis on NATO territory.  We’ll be joined by the Defense Ministers of Norway, and the Netherlands -- other significant contributors to the VJTF.

The VJTF is only one way NATO is adapting.  To be prepared for the threats of the future we must review our plans and approaches and be ready to change the way we think about these new challenges.  How do we confront cyber attacks, propaganda campaigns, and hybrid warfare?  How do we balance liberty and security in preparing for migration surges, terrorism, and flows of foreign fighters?  How do we ensure we can deal with more than one challenge at a time? 

The answer, of course, is that we will do so together as we always have, but the Cold War play book doesn’t apply to this future. 

Our new play book takes the lessons of history and leverages our Alliance’s strengths in new ways for these new threats.  We will use small footprint, high impact rotational presence; build partner capacity; integrate planning between cyber, space and conventional forces; ensure combined military and civilian responses together; use smart sanctions; and launch new media information efforts. 

I will see some of what we’re doing to make that new play book a reality this week.  I already mentioned our trip to the VJTF in Münster this afternoon.  But I’ll also be traveling on to Tallinn, Estonia to visit the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence there, and the Sailors and Marines aboard the USS San Antonio who just participated in the multinational Baltic operations, or BALTOPS exercise there.  And later this week at the NATO Defense Ministerial I’ll work with my colleagues to be bold and creative as we seek new ways to adapt our alliance for these 21st Century challenges.

To implement new plans and the new play book NATO has to be more capable and able, if necessary, to meet two or more challenges at once.  Or as we Americans say, NATO needs to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.  We do not have the luxury of addressing challenges one at a time.  Despite the progress since the Wales summit, the challenges and opportunities before us require that the Alliance do more.  No country can retrench and escape responsibility for confronting the threats that face us all. 

Throughout NATO’s history the United States has provided the lion’s share of funding for the Alliance.  Today we provide 70 percent of all defense spending in the Alliance.  And make no mistake, America remains capable of and committed to leveraging all the elements of our national power to assure our collective security, but the United States cannot, should not, and will not meet these challenges in Europe alone.  The Transatlantic relationship and Transatlantic security is, as ever, a two-sided affair.

As allies, we must all ensure the Defense Investment Pledge made at last year’s Wales Summit means something.  As allies, we must all accept our fair share of security responsibility to each other; and as allies we all must choose to invest in, develop, and field new capabilities now and in the future.  Germany is stepping up on this score.  Your recent commitment to a six percent defense spending increase puts you on a positive trajectory, but more is required to ensure that Germany’s defense investments match Germany’s leadership role.

That example is important because there’s an undeniable tendency to turn inward here, around Europe, and also in America.  We need to guard against that temptation, to move forward together.  We need to explain to those who doubt the value of our NATO commitments that the security of Europe is vital to everything else we hold dear. 

Transatlantic economic prosperity is intimately tied to the security of our nations, this continent, and the world.  Our political freedoms, so hard-won over the decades, cannot be taken for granted.  NATO and Europe have long stood for a set of principles that make us the envy of most of the world.  And NATO and Europe have long been engaged and capable of standing up for those principles here and around the world.  The world needs Europe…needs Europe…to continue to do so.

A more active Germany and a more adaptive NATO will ensure that while Vladimir Putin may be intent on turning the clock back in Russia, he cannot turn the clock back in Europe.

Since Russia began its campaign against Ukraine early last year -- violating the UN Charter, the Helsinki Accords, and the NATO-Russia Founding Act, as well as the commitment it made in Budapest – the Budapest Memorandum – that I myself saw signed in Budapest in 1994.  Since then the United States, NATO, and the EU have made clear to Russia that its aggressive actions have no place in today’s world.

The best tool we have to confront Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is the economic sanctions regime the United States and Europe are leading against those responsible for this unacceptable behavior.  These sanctions are having an effect, and they’ve increased the cost Russia is paying for its aggression.

Chancellor Merkel with her exhaustive personal diplomacy, has been a tremendous leader in this effort and I encourage the EU to maintain solidarity and support for these sanctions as they did last week, as long as it takes to convince the Kremlin to fully implement the Minsk Agreements.

Ukraine is only one part of our larger concerns these days about Russia.  In response, we’re taking a strong but balanced strategic approach.  An approach that seeks to ensure Russia cannot force anyone to turn…toward the past, all the while welcoming and encouraging Russia to turn back toward the future.

In our response, we will not rely on the Cold War play book. 

We will take a new, strong, and balanced strategic approach.  We will take necessary steps in the U.S. and NATO capabilities, posture, and plans to deter Russia’s maligned and destabilizing influence, coercion, and aggression, including its efforts to undermine strategic stability and challenge the military balance in Europe.  To do so we’ll leverage strong and modern U.S. forces -- the greatest fighting force, the world has even known – an adaptive and agile NATO working, as I said, from a new play book; and deepening security partnerships throughout Europe and around the world.  Just this week, just this week there are 20 named exercises of U.S. forces in Europe.  Just this week.

We will continue to help reduce the vulnerability of allies and partners, not only through military training and support, but also through work to enhance European energy security, and therefore decrease dependence on Russian energy. 

Even as we take prudent steps to guard against a more aggressive Russia we will continue to cooperate with Russia when it is willing and where it is applying its influence on the many issues where Russia’s leaders do indeed see that their interests align with the interests of the international community.  This includes the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, nonproliferation more generally, counter-terrorism -- countering ISIL-like movements, and other issues. 

Finally, and this is important, the United States will continue to hold out the possibility that Russia will assume the role of respected partner moving forward, not isolated and going backward as it is today. 

Let me focus on that last point for a moment.  Much of the progress we’ve made together since the end of the Cold War, we accomplished with Russia.  Let me repeat that.  Not in spite of Russia, not against Russia, not without Russia, but with it. 

Russia has worked toward the future before.  In 1995, for example, I worked with the Russian Minister of Defense to ensure that it joined NATO in bringing peace to Bosnia.  In 1996 that same Minister was there planting sunflowers in Pervomaysk with his American and Ukrainian counterparts.  And more recently, Russia has hosted a key NATO supply route into Afghanistan.

People in the United States, here in Europe, and it should be clear in Russia, all benefited from that collaboration and progress.  That’s why we’ll keep the door open for Russia.  But it’s up to the Kremlin to decide. 

We do not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia.  We do not seek to make Russia an enemy.  But make no mistake, we will defend our allies, the rules-based international order, and the positive future it affords us.  We will stand up to Russia’s actions and their attempts to reestablish a Soviet-era sphere of influence.

The United States will not let Russia drag us back to the past.  We want to move forward together. 

But whatever is decided in the Kremlin, we will move forward, and Europe will move forward.  That’s why we will continue America’s strength and leadership.  That’s why we encourage Germany’s efforts to lead on security.  And that’s why we’re working so hard to assure NATO’s capabilities and unity.  That’s why we still, despite past history and today’s deeply troubling trends, hold open the possibility of a turn to the future by Russia.

And moving forward…moving forward will be better still.  I look forward to coming back to Europe years from now for anniversaries to come at NATO’s 100th Anniversary that celebrates the adaptive Alliance’s singular role in this new century.  For the 50th Anniversary of a unified Germany that commemorates this nation’s increased global security leadership.  For the 25th Anniversary of the VJTF that helps NATO respond to new threats.  At each of these anniversaries we hope Russia is present and contributing to global peace and prosperity. 

That’s the future that can be ours when we move forward together.  And if we meet our commitments to each other and stay unified, I’m confident we will reach it.

Vielen Dank für ihre Aufmerksamkeit.  Ich beantworte sehr gerne ihre Fragen.  Thank you.