Carnegie Europe

By:  Leon Panetta
Date: Oct. 5, 2011
Location: Brussels, Belgium

Thank you very much, Jessica, I appreciate that kind introduction. Excellencies, distinguished guests, I'm also particularly pleased to see a lot of young people in this audience and I really appreciate your interest in the challenges that face us as we try to design what happens with our defense posture in the twenty first century. Jessica, in particular, I want to thank you for making the trip all the way from Washington just to be here in person, I really appreciate you doing that. This gathering is in many ways a testament to the success that you have had in transforming the Carnegie endowment into a truly global think tank.

I appreciate the opportunity to address this audience here at Carnegie Europe. It is a pleasure to be here with you, to be in Brussels to attend my first ministerial since becoming Secretary of Defense. And I apologize that I am on schedule that demands that I keep moving. There is something to be said for being director of the CIA, I could tip toe in and tip toe out. In this job there is no such thing. Everything is pretty much programmed and you have to move from one meeting to another, from one bilateral to another, and that's the schedule that I am on and that's the nature of being Secretary of Defense.

This is my first visit to this continent since I took on my new position, but in many ways any trip to Europe is for me a homecoming. I am a son of Europe -- the child of immigrants who came to the United States from Italy in the 1930s -- both of my parents were immigrants. I grew up deeply aware of the shared bonds of culture, and values and history that tie our continents together and form the foundation of the Atlantic Alliance. Over the course of my life, I have lived the unique bond that is our strength and I have borne witness to the extraordinary benefits of prosperity and security that stem from our transatlantic partnership. I am truly a product of that bond between Europe and America.

During my years in government, I have also seen the NATO Alliance transform to meet the threats of the 21stcentury, moving from an alliance that was built around safeguarding our collective territorial defense of Europe to one built on safeguarding our shared interests around the world. I served as White House Chief of Staff in the Clinton administration when NATO launched its first-ever combat operations in 1995, in response of course to the situation in Bosnia. And more recently, I've seen NATO making an extraordinary difference in Afghanistan, in Libya, and elsewhere throughout the world.

This is the perspective that I bring to NATO, and it is the state of that alliance that I would like to discuss with you this morning.

We are nearing the end of a successful campaign in Libya, and are closer than ever to achieving our shared goals in Afghanistan. But there is no doubt that this is also a time of challenge to the alliance. The international security environment is complex and is rapidly changing. Our nations are grappling with significant budget challenges, putting new pressure on defense spending that has already been in decline here on the continent. But that cannot be an excuse for walking away from our national security responsibilities.

This fiscal environment means that the United States, and all nations in NATO, must depend on their fellow members even more -- even more -- to share the burden of protecting common interests. But to do that, the alliance must remain strong -- and that will require members to commit to addressing growing gaps in our military capabilities even as we confront the challenges of fiscal austerity.

Many on both sides of the Atlantic have recognized that we are at a critical moment for our defense partnership. My good friend and predecessor, Bob Gates, used his last policy address as Defense Secretary here in Brussels to deliver a strong message to Europe about the need to boost its commitment to defense and more equitably share the security burden with the United States. NATO Secretary General Rasmussen has also warned about the risk of a weak and divided Europe unless it invests in its own security. While these warnings have been acknowledged, growing fiscal pressures on both sides of the Atlantic have I fear eroded the political will to do something about them. I am convinced, having played a role on budget debates in the prior times I worked in the Congress, as OMB Director, and as Chief of Staff, I am convinced that we do not have to choose between fiscal security and national security. But achieving that goal will test the very future of leadership throughout NATO.

Despite this challenge, NATO continues to do its job and demonstrate its importance to its members, including the United States. As President Obama has said, this is the most successful alliance in human history. And I believe that to be the case. We depend on it every day to provide capacity that we cannot find anyplace else. Libya is the latest example of the importance of NATO. In support of a UN mandate, NATO led an international effort to save innocent civilian lives from a dictator who threatened to inflict great harm upon his own people. Six months after the beginning of Operation Unified Protector, that dictator is now in hiding, and almost all of Libya is under the control of a governing authority that is responsive to the needs of the Libyan people and committed to the creation of a representative democracy. Although the crisis has not yet ended, Libya has a real chance -- a real chance -- at a better and more prosperous future free from the tyranny of the Qadhafi regime. This was a remarkable achievement on many levels -- above all for the Libyan people, but also marked a new chapter for NATO.

First, the alliance decision-making process was swift and decisive once it became clear there was demonstrable need for military intervention. Once it was obvious there was a clear legal basis for action and once it was clear there was strong regional support for this effort. After the UN Security Council Resolution was passed, it took only ten days for NATO to decide to act. For those familiar with the complexities of getting 28 nations to decide on anything, this was a stunning achievement.

Second, the military campaign was effective. Over a six month period, nearly 25,000 air sorties were flown and over 5,000 targets were damaged or destroyed, saving thousands of civilian lives, while NATO suffered zero casualties and inflicted minimal collateral damage.

Third -- and most notably -- this was a mission where we saw greater leadership from our European allies. The alliance achieved more burden-sharing between the U.S. and Europe than we have in the past, particularly for an operation conducted off of Europe's shores, and on a mission that was in the vital interest of our European allies. After the United States employed its unique assets in the first week of the conflict to destroy key regime military targets and air defense capabilities, Europeans took over the brunt of operations.

France and the United Kingdom engaged on a large scale, flying one third of the overall sorties and attacking forty percent of the targets. Their deployment of helicopters was critical to the later stages of this campaign. They also exercised leadership roles politically and diplomatically. Meanwhile Italy made valuable contributions to the air-ground mission and served as an indispensable base for Allied operations.

Smaller countries also punched well above their weight. Denmark, Norway, and Belgium together destroyed as many targets as France. Romania and Bulgaria deployed ships as part of the arms embargo. Canada, as always, contributed its fair share -- and that was substantial. This was true collective action -- not only amongst NATO allies, but with non-NATO partners such as Qatar, the UAE and Sweden. The operation demonstrated the effectiveness of the alliance's integrated command structure and our ability to work effectively and communicate with each other quickly in a complex mission. NATO is very simply -- NATO is very simply -- the only alliance that is capable of executing this kind of responsibility -- and it was able to do so even while remaining heavily engaged in other operations across the globe.

By far the largest effort, being conducted on the other side of the globe and a focus of our talks here in Brussels, is the war in Afghanistan, where non-U.S. allies and partners contribute close to 40,000 troops to that mission. Together, we are helping the Afghan people secure their country so that Afghanistan will never again provide a safe haven for al-Qaeda or other extremists groups who could threaten any of our nations. We have a tough fight on our hands in Afghanistan, make no mistake about it, but we are headed in the right direction. Even as the United States begins to draw down its surge forces, we continue to depend on our NATO allies to be with us in this effort. To that end, the United States will make sure that as we draw down our forces, we will not deprive our NATO partners of the critical enablers and support their troops depend upon. General Allen has made that clear, I have made that clear, that as we draw down we maintain those important enables so NATO can continue its mission. We must and will continue to send a strong signal to the people of Afghanistan, and the Taliban, that we are committed to the long-term relations that we have made to the Afghanistan people. And we will stand by that enduring relationship.

While NATO's efforts in Afghanistan and Libya show the necessity and effectiveness of the alliance, they also illustrate growing gaps that must be addressed. The Libya operation, for example, revealed significant shortfalls in capabilities. For example, NATO had a significant shortage of well-trained targeting specialists, and the United States had to make up the difference by deploying more targeters to determine the targets to be struck. In addition, shortages of supplies and munitions plagued the effort -- forcing the U.S. to sell millions of dollars of ammunition, repair parts, fuel, technical assistance, and other support items simply to keep the operation going. But nowhere were the gaps more obvious than in the critical enabling capabilities: refueling tankers, provision of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms such as Global Hawk and Predator drones. Without these capabilities, -- without these capabilities -- the Libya operation would have had a very difficult time getting off the ground or been sustained.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan has revealed its own set of challenges. General Allen still lacks trainers -- something that we all know is critical to this phase of the transition. He also continues to seek contributions to the trust funds we have collectively established in recent years in order to sustain the Afghan National Security Forces, something that is essential to their ability to provide security now and in the future. And, as in Libya, the shortage of ISR and enablers -- in particular airlift -- has plagued the mission from day one.

Unfortunately, these capability gaps are being exposed at precisely the time when every defense minister in NATO, including myself, is dealing with great fiscal challenges at home. By one estimate, here in Europe, defense spending has dropped almost two percent annually for a decade -- at a time when many European nations have been conducting operations in Afghanistan, Libya, Kosovo and elsewhere. As a result, much-needed modernization investment has been deferred. There are legitimate questions about whether, if present trends continue, NATO will again be able to sustain the kind of operations that we have seen in Libya and Afghanistan without the United States taking on even more of the burden. It would be a tragic outcome if the alliance shed the very capabilities that allowed it so successfully conduct these operations.

As for the United States, many might assume that the United States defense budget is so large it can absorb and cover alliance shortcomings -- but make no mistake about it, we are facing dramatic cuts with real implications for alliance capability. Already the Defense Department faces the requirement, as a result of the debt ceiling agreement and the legislation passed in Congress, to make more than $450 billion in reductions over the next ten years. This will be tough but I also believe it will be manageable over that ten year period. My service chiefs, combatant commanders and I are convinced that we can maintain a strong national defense and yet meet these savings targets. It will require innovation and creativity it will require efficiencies, it will require discipline, but I truly believe we can do this to maintain strong national defense. But if the United States Congress fails to address the larger deficit issues, we've established a committee to come up with additional deficit reduction, but if it fails, there is an automatic process called sequester that will take effect. Sequester is a kind of doomsday formula which will cut everything across the board. And if that happens we could we could face additional cuts in defense -- a doubling of what the cuts we now face could happen if that process is allowed to go into effect. That, ladies and gentlemen, would be truly devastating to our national security and to yours as well.

These are the concerns that we must work together to address as we look towards the NATO Summit next May in Chicago. Ideally, we will be able to halt additional cuts in defense or at a minimum keep defense spending at current levels. Recognizing the financial and political realities we face, we need at a minimum to coordinate additional cuts, avoid surprises, and ensure that our limited resources are being put into the most efficient and effective defense programs. We cannot afford for countries to make decisions about force structure and force reductions in a vacuum, leaving neighbors and allies in the dark. This must be a transparent and cooperative process.

An example of making the best use of our defense resources is the "Smart Defense" -- so called "Smart Defense" -- initiative that was launched by Secretary General Rasmussen, which could be harmonized with the EU's "pooling and sharing" initiative. We should also work together to deliver on the capability programs and initiatives our leaders identified at Lisbon. For example, the Alliance Ground Surveillance so called AGS system, which is critical to boosting the alliance's ISR capabilities -- surveillance capabilities -- is currently at an impasse due to disagreements over funding. AGS is a crucial symbol of alliance collaboration. If we are going to move into the future, if we to have a cooperative relationship with regards to capabilities this is crucial to be able to put into place. AGS is not only a crucial symbol of alliance cooperate it is indeed a true bargain for NATO. Unless it is implemented successfully, the drive for similar, cost-effective, multinational approaches to capability development would be seriously undermined.

Going forward, we will also need to fundamentally review how the alliance organizes itself to fight, and to identify and protect the core alliance military capabilities we need in order to meet the challenges we will face in the next decade.

Finally, between now and the Summit, we should look for innovative ways to enhance and expand our partnerships both with those countries outside NATO that are exceptionally capable militarily, and those that strive to be more capable. A look at the composition of NATO's ongoing operations -- in Libya, Afghanistan, off the coast of Somalia -- makes it clear that non-NATO partners will be increasingly central to NATO's future activities, particularly as we all strive to more broadly share the burden of defending our common interests.

We live in a world of growing danger and growing uncertainty -- where we face threats from violent extremism, nuclear proliferation, rising powers, and from cyber attack. We cannot predict where the next crisis will occur. But we know that we are stronger when we confront these threats together. The benefits that our countries derive from working together to defend common interests and protect our security and prosperity are obvious. They are enduring. They are key to the future. And it is precisely because of the growing security challenges that we face and growing fiscal constraints that we face that we absolutely have to work more closely than ever as partners. Security in the 21stcentury will not be achieved by each nation marching to its own drummer. It can only be achieved by a willingness to fight together to defend our common security interests. That is the world that we must shape today, to build a stronger world for tomorrow.

With the fall of the Qadhafi regime, our nations saw an example of why NATO matters, and why NATO remains indispensable to confronting the security challenges of today. Approaching the Chicago summit next year, we need to use this moment to make the case for the need to invest in this alliance, to ensure it remains relevant to the security challenges of the future. In confronting the budget challenges that I face in the United States, I have made it clear that I am prepared to make the tough decisions needed to avoid hollowing out the United States military. My goal is to protect our military strength. Throughout history we need to learn the lessons of the past. After World War I, after World War II, after Korea, after Vietnam, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, we made the mistake of hollowing out our forces. That cannot happen again. Similarly, NATO nations need to send a strong signal of our determination not to hollow out this alliance -- but instead to keep it strong and to keep it vital for the future.

Last month, the American people came together to commemorate the attacks of 9/11 -- the 10thanniversary of those attacks -- a horrific day that took the lives of citizens from both sides of the Atlantic. And as we recalled that terrible day, we remembered the friends and allies that came to our side. In particular, the strong expression of alliance solidarity for the United States when NATO invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty for the very first time and sent surveillance planes to help patrol the skies over the United States. It has been a tough decade of war, but our country and our alliance have learned to fight back. Terrorist who thought that they could weaken America and weaken the world, have learned that they have only made us stronger and tougher. Just as we met the challenges of the Cold War and 9/11, I am confident we can confront the challenges that await us in the next decade. But it will demand that we keep working together and move forward.

There is a wonderful story about how near the end of World War II, as our allied forces were approaching the Rhine river, where there were no -- at least at that moment -- obvious bridges to cross the Rhine. The momentum of the forces came to a halt at the Rhine. Many of the troops wearied by war felt that it would be difficult to carry on, that the war was going to be over soon, and that another battle might cost them their lives. So there was a hesitation. But at the bridge at Remagen a lone very brave lieutenant urged his forces across that bridge saying we have to keep going, we have to keep going. And that became the cry of the troops for the end of the war. Now that we're at the end of a decade of war it is most important that we too not grow weary and fail to move forward. This is a moment to keep going, to cross that bridge, to establish that 21stcentury NATO that can protect our world for the future. That is our mission, that is our commitment, that is our responsibility for the future. Thank you very much.