In a changing security and fiscal environment, the Defense Department will seek to collaborate more closely with European allies, especially to help build the capabilities of other global partners, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said.
He and State Department Secretary John Kerry formed a panel here at the Munich Security Conference, which ends Feb. 2. The conference, a key gathering for the international strategic community, was called the Internationale Wehrkunde-Begegnung when it began in 1963. Wehrkunde, pronounced “verkunda,” literally translates as “military science.”
The afternoon panel addressed the need for a transatlantic renaissance that will tune defense partnerships, investments and international relationships to common threats that have become persistent, pressing and global.
Such threats, Hagel said in his opening remarks, “emanate from political instability and violent extremism in the Middle East and North Africa, dangerous nonstate actors, rogue nations such as North Korea, cyber warfare, demographic changes, economic disparity, poverty and hunger.”
China and Russia are modernizing their militaries and global defense industries, challenging the U.S. technological edge and its international defense partnerships, the secretary added, and the world will continue to grow more interconnected, complicated and in many cases combustible.
“The challenges and choices before us will demand leadership that reaches into the future without stumbling over the present,” Hagel said, adding that the United States and Europe must together meet this “challenge of change.”
With the U.S. transitioning off of a 13-year war footing, it’s clear to the president and the nation that the future demands an enhanced era of partnership with U.S. friends and allies, especially in Europe, the secretary added.
U.S. and European budget constraints make it necessary for both partners to invest more strategically, protecting military capability and readiness, Hagel said, to share burdens and opportunities.
“The Defense Department’s strategy and defense investments will make clear that the United States sees Europe as its indispensable partner” in addressing the new threats, challenges and opportunities, he added, and NATO is the centerpiece of the transatlantic defense partnership.
A key theme of the upcoming DOD Quadrennial Defense Review will be the need for the military to place even greater strategic emphasis on working with allies and partners around the world in a changing security and fiscal environment, the secretary said.
“The Department of Defense will work closely with our allies’ different and individual strengths and capabilities, from the training of indigenous forces to more advanced combat missions,” Hagel said.
Promising new initiatives include Germany’s Framework Nations concept, in which clusters of nations are responsible for different defense areas of competence. Such a distribution of effort, the secretary said, could help NATO plan and invest more efficiently.
In Africa, the U.S. military and European allies are partners in combating violent extremism and working alongside U.S. diplomats to avert humanitarian catastrophes, he added.
“In Mali and the Central African Republic, U.S. and European partners are providing specialized enablers such as air transport and refueling. We’re there to support a leading operational role for French forces,” Hagel said.
“The United States has supported France’s leadership and efforts,” he added, “and we welcome German Minister [Ursula] von der Leyen’s recent proposal to increase German participation in both [African] countries.”
The United States and its allies must work more closely with African nations to help them build their own security forces and institutions, Hagel noted.
A more collaborative approach to global security challenges calls for U.S. and allied defense establishments to cooperate on operational and strategic levels, he said.
“We are working with … the United Kingdom and Australia, building closer collaboration between our militaries across a range of areas, from force development to force posture, the secretary said. He noted as an example the United States’ assistance to the United Kingdom as they regenerate their aircraft carrier capability to enable more integrated operation of U.S. advanced F-35 fighters (Emphasis added—Ed.) and enhance both nations’ shared ability to project power.
Last year, he added, an Australian Army officer became deputy commanding general of U.S. Army forces in the Pacific, helping connect U.S. and Australian forces more strategically with other allies and partners in the region.
Hagel said such collaboration offers a model for closer integration with other allies and partners, including NATO as a whole, and will influence U.S. strategic planning and future investments.
“Sustaining and enhancing these cooperative efforts will require shared commitment and shared investment on both sides of the Atlantic,” he said. “That includes the United States’ commitment to a strong military posture in Europe.”
As the U.S. force structure draws down after the long war in Afghanistan, posture adjustments to meet new challenges include efforts such as responding to elevated threats to U.S. diplomatic facilities in North Africa and the Middle East, the secretary said.
“We have partnered with Spain to position U.S. Marines in Morón, and we have put other forces throughout the region on heightened alert status. These forces not only enable us to respond to crises or support ongoing operations but they also expand our diplomatic options,” he added.
And amid recent violence in South Sudan, Hagel said, the rapid availability of nearby forces allowed American diplomats to remain on the ground and help broker a ceasefire.
Another important posture enhancement is European missile defense in response to ballistic missile threats from Iran, he added.
“Over the last two days I’ve been in Poland, where I affirmed the United States’ commitment to deploying missile defense architecture there as part of Phase Three of our European Phased Adaptive Approach,” the secretary said.
Yesterday afternoon the guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook left the United States for Rota, Spain, he added, where over the next two years three more missile-defense capable destroyers will join the Cook.
“Despite fiscal constraints, the budget we will release next month fully protects our investment in European missile defense. Our commitment to Europe is unwavering. Our values and our interests remain aligned,” Hagel said.”
In his State of the Union address this week, President Barack Obama called the U.S. alliance with Europe “the strongest the world has ever known.”
Still, the most successful and effective collective security alliance in history requires continued strong and visionary leadership, attention, resources and commitment, the secretary said, adding that 50 years from now, in 2064, there will still be a Wehrkunde, “and there will still be a strong and enduring transatlantic alliance.”