U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on May 6, 2014. After thanking the hosts and noting that Chicago was "the city of big shoulders," Hagel went on to affirm that America must remain a "nation of big shoulders" in the world at large.
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. . . What hangs in the balance is not just America's military, but also America's global standing, our global standing for years to come. Today, I'd like to discuss this transition and the global dynamics that are affecting foreign affairs, our military, and America's role in the world.
Unlike their predecessors of the past 13 years, our military's newest recruits do not face the almost certain prospects of deploying to war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead, they face a fractured global security landscape, one characterized by great uncertainty, rapid change, new and sophisticated threats, and continued political turbulence,
The rise of Asia, the explosion of youth populations in the Middle East and Africa, new technologies bringing people closer together, and new threats emanating from these technologies, like cyber, deepening global economic interdependence and the diffusion of global economic power, a resurgence of nationalism and sectarian conflict around the world, new sources of energy in this hemisphere and elsewhere, climate change, and more frequent destructive natural disasters – all these realities are challenging and will continue to challenge America's security and our prosperity.
While many of these threats are borderless, America and its allies face a stern test in the unprecedented confluence of today's global challenges emanating within and between nation-states. These include the civil and sectarian war and humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, Iran's destabilizing activities, North Korea's continued dangerous provocations in Northeast Asia, simmering tensions between China, Japan and Southeast Asian nations in the South and East China Seas, deadly terrorist threats to the nations of North Africa and beyond, Afghanistan's continuing struggle for security and stability, and Russia's blatant aggression in Ukraine.
All of this offers a reminder that the character of international relations has not changed. Conflicts between states, historic religious and ethnic hatreds, and rivalries between regional powers all remain defining features of today's global landscape. They remind us that history and geography still matter.
Working with allies and friends, American leadership must respond to these challenges and help shape the forces that will shape our future. More and more people in nations around the world are gaining a stake in the global order that we helped build after World War II. Not only has NATO enlarged and strengthened, but new regional systems are emerging in Asia and the Middle East, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Gulf Cooperation Council that are helping nations forge new kinds of cooperation to address common interests and common challenges.
As we witness a realignment of interests, influences and challenges, the United States must continue to exercise strong, steady and inspired leadership as we did after World War II. What we accomplished during that period of time and how we accomplished it remains instructive as we work with friends and allies to adapt and strengthen our global order to meet shifting realities.
The post-World War II decade was, like today, a time of great uncertainty, but a time of great hope. And America was also focusing inward. But America's leaders -- Harry Truman, Dean Acheson, George Marshall, and Dwight Eisenhower among them -- knew that the security and prosperity of our citizens, American citizens here at home, depended on our engagement and leadership abroad. They stepped forward to build alliances in international institutions, helping establish the rules and norms that still underpin security and prosperity today.
Their success also hinged on recognizing, as George Marshall once said, that “a very strong military posture is vitally necessary, but it is too narrow, too narrow a basis on which to build a dependable, long-enduring peace.” We must lead with a robust and comprehensive use of all of our instruments of power, employing cultural, educational, economic, diplomatic, development, and military tools alike.
In Europe, our rapid deployment of U.S. forces to Poland and our Baltic allies continues to reassure them all of our commitment to NATO's collective security against Russia's aggression, as we also strengthen our diplomatic and economic options.
In the Middle East, our force posture, including more than 35,000 DOD personnel in and around the Persian Gulf, helped contribute to the diplomatic opening with Iran and helped compel the Assad regime to dismantle its chemical weapons program through a diplomatic process.
In the Asia Pacific rebalance, we are employing all of our instruments of power to strengthen allies, underwrite the free flow of commerce, and help nations resolve disputes peacefully so all nations there can live in peace and freedom as their nations prosper.
Although Americans today are increasingly skeptical of foreign engagement and global responsibilities, it is a mistake -- it's a mistake to view these responsibilities as a burden or charity.
Let us remember that the biggest beneficiaries of American leadership and engagement in the world are the American people. Turning inward, history teaches us, does not insulate us from the world's troubles. It only forces us to be more engaged later, at a higher cost, at a higher cost in blood and treasure and often on the terms of others. This is perhaps more true than ever in today's globalized world. Walking away from the world and our relationships is not an option for the United States.
Despite all the challenges and imperfections and problems facing America and the world today -- and they are numerous -- we are living still in an era of unprecedented prosperity and opportunity. It is easy to be lulled into taking this for granted, but we cannot forget that this era resulted from decades of American engagement abroad with our allies, as well as investments in our people and infrastructure here at home.
In the post-war era, the United States military has contributed to peace and prosperity not only by fighting wars, but by preventing wars. America's investment in its military remains a dominant factor in continuing to help build a peaceful, free and stable world.
But we cannot assume that the clear lessons of history are always recognized or heeded. History informs us that allowing our military strength to weaken when coming out of a war is always, always a costly mistake, especially costly like today when there is no obvious peace dividend.
As forcefully as George Marshall argued for balance in America's foreign policy, he also warned that after war, “Americans too often allow for,” in his words, “the rapid disintegration of our once vast power for maintaining the peace.”
We should pay attention to his words. We should also recognize that military strength is not only defined by the size of our force, but by its agility and how quickly it can be mobilized and how superior its weapons and technology are always as we compare them to our adversaries. The force must be kept in balance as we adjust to new fiscal and strategic realities and challenges.
DOD's leaders had long expected that coming out of the wars, the defense budget would be reduced, and it has been reduced, just like previous wars. But the scale and the pace of the budget cuts we're experiencing and that we have experienced in recent years have been made far more severe and more abrupt because political gridlock in Washington triggered steep automatic cuts to the president's budget request by way of sequestration, an irresponsible deferral of governing responsibility.
And even as Congress has slashed our overall budget, they have so far proven unwilling to accept necessary reforms to curb growth in compensation costs and eliminate DOD's excess infrastructure and unneeded facilities.
This is not the political or budget environment that the president or I wanted, nor any of our leadership at DOD. But it is the environment we have. It is the environment that we must deal with and manage through.
Over the past year, DOD's leaders and I have built a budget plan that makes a series of tough choices, tough choices to match resources to real strategic priorities and missions. This budget is now being debated before Congress, and that means we have entered a crucial period for our military's future, one that will play out not just in the coming months of debate, but over the next few years and beyond, because the decisions we make today will determine the size, form and fighting strength of our future military.
As we enter this period of transition, we know that we face enormous strategic and managerial challenges. If we fail to meet these challenges, “the yawning gap,” as this week's Economist magazine editorial put it, “between Uncle Sam and his potential foes seems bound to shrink.”
Sustaining our edge in the face of new strategic and fiscal challenges will require Congress's partnership, partnership in making tough choices, always looking at our broader national interests instead of narrow constituencies. It will require Congress to provide the Pentagon with the resources and the flexibility we need to meet our national security responsibilities.
If we get this flexibility, the United States military will emerge from this period having sustained and even sharpened its decisive edge. Doing so will support America's global leadership, enhance our credibility abroad, and ultimately ensure our security at home.
We can and we must, as Tom Friedman recently noted, do big and difficult things together, but this demands that we protect three pillars of our military embedded within our strategy and our budget.
Our first priority is our people. The first priority of any institution must always be its people, because it is the commitment of our people, their professionalism and their skill, the unique commitment of these men and women in uniform that give our military its decisive advantage.
These attributes in our service members are justly celebrated, but they are not inevitable. Not only do we need the right people, they must be afforded the chance to grow, develop new skills, and make meaningful contributions to our nation's defense in an atmosphere that fosters professionalism, dignity, and respect. And they and their families must be fairly compensated and cared for by the country they serve.
But what motivates people to join and stay in the military is not just the compensation, it's the sense of purpose that comes with the mission and the training and the skills that their services provided. That message has been driven home to me repeatedly almost every time I meet with our troops all over the world.
Taking care of our people during this period of transition requires that we maintain military readiness, the training and the maintenance that keeps our force prepared. Readiness is an expensive proposition. And the difficulty with advocating for readiness is that it lacks a built-in constituency, except among those who serve in the military. Outside of war, readiness is and has been historically overlooked. But in today's world, neglecting readiness is an irresponsible gamble that we do not want to take. DOD's senior leaders and I will continue making the argument to Congress that readiness must be an urgent priority.
This ultimately requires tradeoffs. Some of them are politically easy; others are far more difficult, like adjusting military compensation, retiring aging weapons platforms, and reducing the overall size of the force, both active and National Guard and reserve.
We must take these actions in order to maintain a ready force for the future. It is the responsible, the responsible thing to do. If we do not take these actions now, then we will embark on a certain path of demoralizing and hollowing out our force. It will jeopardize our nation's ability to successfully respond to military crises anywhere in the world at any time.
A similar risk exists if we do not provide our men and women with clearly superior arms, equipment and technology. That's why my second priority is investing in the military capabilities needed to meet new and enduring threats. I'm not interested in a fair fight. And I don't want to be capable of only fighting the last war. That was the last war. Instead, we must rebalance and modernize the military's full suite of capabilities. We must do so with an eye toward the most likely and lethal threats to our future, recognizing that many of the military's key conventional weapons platforms are aging and they need to be upgraded or replaced.
Terrorists and insurgents are not fading into oblivion. The continued and spreading threat that they pose was a key part of our decision to grow and strengthen our special operations forces and capabilities, but we must also re-emphasize the capabilities and skills needed to counter high-intensity threats from more sophisticated adversaries. As we've seen in Ukraine and elsewhere, we must prepare for shadowy conflicts in which nations deploy irregular forces, conduct cyberterrorism, and seek ways to counter our technological edge. And we will always require a ready, capable and modern standing Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
This means investing in the military's major next-generation weapons systems, including the new Joint Strike Fighter, the new long-range bomber, and new submarines and aircraft carriers, but it also means protecting new tools in space and cyber, which our budget does, and investing in unmanned systems, precision strike, and intelligence platforms. It means continuing to invest in science, research and technology, and strengthening organizations like DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which also saw a funding increase in our budget proposal.
Modernizing all of our military's capabilities will not only help ensure our continued military edge, it will also help sustain America's defense industrial base. Now that industrial base, a good amount of it here in the Midwest, is in itself a critically important national strategic asset.
We also must adjust our capabilities to meet new global realities, including environmental changes. Just today, the nation's top scientists released a national climate assessment that warns us in very stark terms that the effects of climate change are already becoming quite apparent.
One area where we see this is the Arctic. The melting of gigantic ice caps presents possibilities for the opening of new sea lanes and the exploration for natural resources, energy and commerce, also with the dangerous potential for conflict in the Arctic.
The Defense Department is bolstering its engagement in the Arctic and looking at what capabilities we need to operate there in the future, as described in DOD's first-ever Arctic strategy that I introduced at the Halifax international security forum last November.
But in the face of strict budget limits, we must make many tradeoffs in capabilities, as well. That's why our budget plan divests DOD of several venerable, capable, but aging platforms, like the 50-year-old U-2 spy plane and the A-10, a close air support platform that cannot operate in the face of sophisticated enemy air defenses. These decisions were difficult, but they were based on real-world needs and strategic imperatives.
We cannot afford to keep all of our platforms. We must prioritize for our future requirements. It won't be easy, it won't be popular, but given our continued budget restraints and uncertainties, we have no choice. And if we do not make these choices now, we will be left with a force that is large, but not sufficiently ready or capable to meet national security requirements.
Given budget restraints and the end of two large-scale wars, we have accepted some reductions in the size of the force, but these reductions need not and will not diminish our commitment to America's alliances and partnerships which remain the foundation for our approach to global security and for our military's global presence.
Today, the U.S. military is engaged in nearly 100 countries with nearly 400,000 personnel stationed or deployed around the world. Strengthening these partnerships is our third priority, because working with and working through allies and partners, just as we did during World War II and since, is as essential today as it has ever been.
What our budget proposal and defense strategy makes clear is that even as we shrink our military's size, we must not simply return to garrison. We must continue strengthening the capabilities of our allies, forming new alliances and bolstering old ones, and investing in collective security arrangements.
We want our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen and Marines active around the world, deploying with greater frequency and agility, with the skills and expertise needed to build security capacity in each region. An example of this kind of mutually beneficial partnership that we now seek and we pursue can be found here in Illinois, where your National Guard has built a more than 20-year relationship with the Polish armed forces. Leveraging the expertise and skills of our guardsmen, we have helped Poland become a more capable ally and contribute to the mission in Afghanistan.
Building stronger partnerships does not require large-scale deployments. As we continue to shift forces and operational focus to the Asia Pacific region, we are pursuing new access agreements, agreements like the one President Obama announced last week in the Philippines, which enable us to sustain presence without a rigid and costly basing structure.
We've also begun new deployments of Marines to Australia and Navy Littoral Combat Ships to Singapore, where they're available to operate with partners and respond to contingencies, and we're also deploying more advanced capabilities to Japan and South Korea, our allies in Northeast Asia.
At the same time, we're finding new ways to team up with civilian counterparts to strengthen the capacity of partner nations in Africa and Latin America. I saw this firsthand last month in Guatemala, where our troops were helping build schools and provide medical education and assistance. And tomorrow, I'll meet with the president of Djibouti to talk about how to bolster the regional training activities the U.S. military conducts with its partners in that country.
A final critical aspect of strengthening partnerships is our engagement with multilateral organizations. This not only includes NATO, but also regional institutions, like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Last month, I hosted the first-ever U.S.-ASEAN defense ministers' meeting on U.S. soil in Hawaii. We focused on our common security interests, our common challenges, our common opportunities, and how we can continue to build cooperation in areas like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
This month, I will travel to Saudi Arabia for a U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council defense ministerial with all the defense ministers from the GCC countries, focused on regional security issues. And early next month, I will participate in my fourth NATO defense ministerial, a tribute, of course, to Ivo.
At all these forums, the U.S. participation and engagement is welcomed, if not overtly sought, as Ivo and many of you in this room know. And that has everything to do with the respect afforded our men and women in uniform and the unmatched capabilities they bring to bear around the world.
Our people, our capabilities, our partnerships, these are what make the American military unique and the envy of the world. They will be my guiding focus, all the leadership of DOD's guiding focus as we reshape, rebalance, and reform our defense enterprise for the challenges ahead and ensure America's global leadership.
This will require innovation and agility in every area. And it will require engagement around the world.
From our own history, we know why America's global leadership is indispensable to our own future. This history is reflected in the story of this council, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an organization founded in 1922 to fight against the rising tide of isolationism that gripped America after the end of World War I.
Fifteen years after this council was founded, Franklin Roosevelt -- then President of the United States -- came to Chicago to talk about the rising threats posed by Japan and Germany. He delivered his most passionate case to date about the need to turn away from the isolationist path, the insular, inward look, and he said, "We are determined to keep out a war, but yet we cannot have complete protection in a world of disorder, in which confidence and security have broken down."
We all know that these appeals were not enough to summon action at that time. President Roosevelt's speech was greeted with protests and anger from a public determined to stay out of international affairs. But we also know what followed -- the costliest conflict in world history.
At his Fourth Inaugural on January 20, 1945, President Roosevelt reflected on the lessons of that conflict. And he said, "We have learned that we cannot live alone at peace, that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community."
These words echo even more loudly today and summon us to meet our responsibilities around the world. America must not succumb to the temptation to turn inward. We do not engage in the world because we are a great nation. Rather, we are a great nation because we engage in the world, and because we engage with confidence and purpose.
This is a complicated and challenging time. But it is not a time to lose confidence in ourselves, who we are, what we believe, and what we represent. Though the challenges that face our world, our nation, and all of its institutions are great, so is our capacity to deal with these problems if we are wise, steady and resolute. Never in the history of mankind has the nation possessed so much capacity to help make a better world for all mankind. We must not fear change, but embrace it. We must not only look inward, but also upward and outward. We must remain a nation of big shoulders.
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