Secretary of Defense
Remarks at Spanish Center for Advanced Studies of National Defense: "Strong and Principled Security Cooperation"
Thank you, Minister Morenés. I’m going to try to do this: “mil gracias por la amistad y la hospitalidad de España.”
Before I continue, I want to repeat what I said Saturday and then on the plane on the way here to Spain last night about the tragic incident at the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those touched by this tragedy, and by the violence in Kunduz. We need organizations like Doctors Without Borders, and we’ve been in touch with them to assure them that a full and transparent investigation is underway. And we’ve directed our forces in the area to make sure that all civilians who need medical care know our medical facilities are standing by to treat them.
It is a particular honor to be here in Madrid today and speaking to all of you at this important institution, particularly to the students and the future leaders here today. In the coming years, the global community will depend on your insights and creative problem solving to find new avenues of international cooperation, to innovate in response to future challenges and threats, and to further enrich the partnership we celebrate today – a partnership that has benefitted so many, for so long.
Because at a time when terrorism knows no borders…when vicious and hateful ideologies can spread over cyberspace…when state and non-state actors alike can acquire high-end military capabilities, exploit instability for their own gains… at times like these, no single nation can go it alone and hope to provide their people with the peace and security it takes for them live their lives, and dream their dreams. In order to do that today, nations have to be willing to cooperate and work together to help make a better world for everyone.
Today’s security environment requires the kind of enduring and positive connections we’ve had for decades with Spain, our fellow NATO allies, and many other nations around the world. And the nature of these connections is two-fold – they are networked, and they are principled. And America, for its part, plats a winning, strong and often leading role in them.
Indeed, the problems our nations face today are not geographically limited. Their solutions are not purely military, though that is frequently a necessary part. And they are best dealt with through networked, multi-lateral partnerships – NATO being an example of one.
While the NATO model cannot and should not be applied everywhere, the agile, adaptive teamwork it exemplifies makes a powerful argument for deepening and strengthening existing partnerships in response to an evolving world.
Depending on where they are in the world, these kinds of networked connections among nations will inevitably take on many forms – from formal alliances and coalitions such as in Europe and the Middle East, to a shared regional security architecture in the Asia-Pacific.
And that’s okay. Because however and wherever these connections are made, the United States will continue to do what we’ve done for many years: We will cultivate cooperative security partnerships that are strong enough, capable enough, and connected enough to give nations and their peoples the security and the opportunity to rise and thrive in this still young century.
Now, in order to be effective, these teams have to be two-way streets, where each member makes a greater effort to carry and contribute their fair share, spanning from capabilities that are needed for success today, to investments that are needed for success tomorrow.
To borrow a concept from information technology, an modern effective security alliance must be at its core a distributed architecture, one capable of balancing the load and routing demands between voluntary participants in order to provide the flexibility to handle unforeseen challenges. That’s what a network really is. And that’s an alliance at its best.
By their very nature, networks are much more responsive to changes that occur in the world around them. And as the past months have shown in stark detail, the world around us is anything but static.
In this context, the United States and Spain are lucky to be NATO member states, because our historic transatlantic alliance has shown time and again that it has the capacity and agility to adapt and respond to new challenges and threats with cooperative approaches.
And adapt and respond we must, because today, NATO faces significant challenges and threats from multiple directions – emanating from both the South and the East.
These challenges are equally important, both to the NATO alliance and to the United States. They’re also very different, and they require different responses that test the agility and adaptability of our alliance.
Here on NATO’s southern flank, nations like Spain are contending with the ripple effects of ISIL and other extremists exploiting instability in the Middle East and North Africa, with terrorism and state instability putting tremendous pressures on the region. People seeking work and opportunity, and entire families flee for the safety of Europe, overwhelming the ability of many nations to help them. Thousands of radicalized individuals have left Europe to fight in Syria and Iraq, and some have tried to return.
The 20th century playbook was successful in creating a Europe whole, free and at peace, but it isn’t going to help us respond to these complex challenges. Together we must write a new playbook for the 21st century, one that confronts the root causes of instability, and embraces cooperation – not only through bilateral relations between two nations, but also through fostering teamwork among nations and institutions.
Together we are working with our partners in the European Union, which has shown leadership in areas such as humanitarian aid and coordination with non-government organizations in the face of the migrant crisis. And later this week, my fellow NATO defense ministers and I will meet with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Frederica Mogherini, to discuss how NATO and the EU can further strengthen our cooperation.
We are, of course, also working through NATO, where next year Spain will lead NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, or VJTF, the spearhead element in the enhanced NATO Response Force which I visited earlier this summer.
And we are working together bilaterally with Spain, in a partnership that gives us greater ability to react swiftly and effectively to a crisis. The U.S. Navy Aegis destroyers at Rota provide NATO protection against missile threats. And tomorrow, Minister Morenés and I will visit the U.S. Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force stationed in Morón.
The United States is very grateful to Spain for this task force, and we are also grateful to Italy for hosting its forward-deployed assets and personnel in Sigonella, Italy, which I will visit tomorrow as well. Because having this task force based in Spain and Italy on the frontiers of the Southern flank gives us the flexibility and reach to respond swiftly to dangerous events anywhere in the Mediterranean and North Africa.
I want to personally thank Minister Morenés for his hard work in securing the latest amendment to our Agreement on Defense Cooperation. Having additional U.S. military personnel at Morón over the long term will create new opportunities for joint cooperation, and it will be vital as we address the full spectrum of threats and challenges to Europe’s South and East.
Spain’s leadership today reflects the enduring global character that it’s had throughout history. And for Spain to continue that legacy and as its economy steadily strengthens, it’s important to continue to invest in the people and capabilities that make it happen. As Minister Morenés and I noted, that includes meeting the pledge that all NATO allies made last year to invest 2 percent of our GDP on defense. We all made that commitment to each other, and we all have a responsibility to live up to it – not only Spain, but every NATO ally.
We’re also working in partnership with Spain to stem the flow of foreign fighters and counter ISIL’s online messaging, recruitment, and the spread of its loathsome ideology.
This is critical in today’s connected and networked world, and I’m looking forward to seeing it in action when I visit Spain’s cyber counterterrorism center later this afternoon.
ISIL poses a grave threat to Europe, the United States and our friends and allies around the world because of its steady metastasis and its evil intentions. That is why we formed a global coalition of over 60 nations, including Spain, to deny ISIL its safe haven and deliver it a lasting defeat.
This coalition has conducted over 7,300 airstrikes, hampering ISIL's movement and operations and systematically targeting this terrorist group's leadership. And coalition strikes have helped enable operations by a variety of counter-ISIL forces on the ground in Syria, including Syrian Arabs, Kurds, and other groups. And the coalition is now identifying other capable and motivated local forces which it can similarly enable. Those groups have achieved notable success against ISIL, particularly along the Turkey-Syria border.
In Iraq, coalition efforts include airstrikes as well as advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces, and providing additional training and equipment. And in support of these efforts, the Department of Defense will also provide up to $125 million worth of humanitarian supplies including logistical support for refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey and internally displaced persons in Iraq.
To the east, Russia has used political, economic, and military tools 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.
In response, the United States and our allies are taking a strong and balanced strategic approach. We will take all necessary steps to deter Russia’s malign and destabilizing influence, coercion, and aggression, including its efforts to undermine strategic stability and challenge the military balance in Europe.
And at the same time, we will continue to be open to cooperating with Russia where our interests align, and we will leave the door open for Russia to rejoin the community of respectable nations.
To do this, we’ll leverage strong and modern U.S. forces – the finest fighting force the world has even known – and an adaptive and agile NATO working from a new play book, which includes preparing to counter new challenges, like cyber and hybrid warfare, as well as adjusting our posture and presence to help facilitate training and exercises and help make our forces more mobile and responsive.
And we will continue to make it clear that if Russia wants to end its international isolation and be considered a responsible global power, it must stop its aggression in eastern Ukraine, end its occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, and live up to its commitments under the Minsk agreements.
On top of their behavior in Ukraine, Russia's behavior in Syria concerning, and crosswise with the right course of action. As I recently told Russian Minister of Defense Shoygu, there is a contradiction in the logic of the Russian position and its actions in Syria.
Russia says it intends to fight ISIL on the one hand but support Bashar al-Assad on the other. By taking military action in Syria against moderate groups targets, Russia has escalated the civil war, putting further at risk the very political resolution and preservation of Syria’s structure of future governance it says that it wants. This approach is tantamount to pouring gasoline on the fire of civil war.
It’s important to remember that the civil war in Syria began because of Asad’s deficiencies as a leader. He responded to peaceful protests with extraordinary violence. He dropped barrel bombs on villages, and demonstrated a willingness to destroy his nation in a desperate bid to control it. His actions uprooted millions families, and fueled the chaos which gave rise to ISIL. He cannot be rehabilitated in the eyes of the Syrian people.
So as Russia continues to violate international law and alienate the international community, it is doing so in service to a goal that cannot be achieved. The Asad regime cannot last – the only question is what will happen to Syria and the region when it falls.
The United States’ position is clear that a lasting defeat of ISIL and extremism in Syria can only be achieved if pursued in parallel with a political transition in Syria. And we will continue to insist on the importance of simultaneously pursuing these two objectives. The coalitions operations against ISIL are continuing unchanged.
It remains my hope that Russia will see that tethering Russia to a sinking ship is a losing strategy, and will decide to confront the threat presented by ISIL instead of continuing its unilateral airstrikes against Assad’s opposition. In the meantime, we call on Russia to act in a safe and professional manner, uphold international standards for safety, and respect the sovereignty of all nations -- most recently our NATO ally, Turkey.
Russia has an opportunity to be part of the right side of history in resolving the situation in Syria, just as it was in 1995 when I worked with the Russian Minister of Defense to ensure that it joined NATO in bringing peace to Bosnia. And when we worked together to control the spread of nuclear weapons following the cold war. And more recently, Russia has hosted a key NATO supply route into Afghanistan.
People in the United States, here in Europe, and in Russia, all benefited from that collaboration and progress. That’s why we’ll keep the door open for cooperation with Russia. But it’s up to the Kremlin to decide.
In addition, successful security cooperation today must be more than networked – it must also be principled. There is a reason why Russia finds itself clinging to a coalition of two in Syria, while Spain and the United States enjoy the support of 60 nations. The positive and enduring partnerships the United States and Spain have cultivated through NATO and around the world are built upon our common values, and reflect the way we conduct ourselves. Nations know what we stand for. They know how we do things and why. They know we treat them as equals, and we take their interests into account. It is clear that we do things better when we do them together.
That’s why Spain and the United States are doing so much together, both bilaterally and multi-laterally with broader institutions, working together to make our countries more secure and our citizens safer.
That’s why Spain has been a strong partner in Afghanistan, and why we’ve worked together in Iraq to train Iraqi security forces.
That’s also why we have partners like Italy, where I will visit this week, working with us in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Lebanon, leading the European Union migrant mission in the Mediterranean and offering to lead a stability mission in Libya.
And it’s why both Spain and Italy are hosting the task force I mentioned, providing us agility, flexibility and global reach while nations like Russia and China continue to limit themselves by going it alone.
These are times when it is essential to be in an agile and principled alliance with a history of strength and leadership.
It is essential to have strong coalitions, ready and able to tackle difficult challenges. These are times when the principles that guide us also provide the foundation on which we build new solutions to new problems that are bigger than any one country.
These solutions will not come easy, and they will not come quick.
But as I mentioned, we’ve been here before. And as we approach the 20th Anniversary of the Dayton Accords, it’s important to remember what a coalition of nations achieved when they recognized the need to respond beyond their borders, to a crisis with no obvious end in sight, more complicated than before, one that forced mothers, fathers, and children to the open road in search of hope.
They found hope in the NATO alliance. They found hope in the support provided by our coalitions, and in the stalwart support of the international community. And in time they found their way home.
That is why the United States will continue to reach out and deepen our partnerships and alliances. That is why the United States will continue to invest in the world’s greatest fighting force.
Because we know that the only way to succeed in a 21st century security environment is for countries to come together and work together to solve problems as a team. We must do so today. The United States and Spain do that. And for that I am very grateful to our good friends in Spain. Thank you very much.