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Dean Acheson Lecture: "Building Partnership in the 21st Century"

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington, DC, Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thank you, Dick, for that kind introduction, and thank you for the invitation to deliver the fifth Dean Acheson Lecture.

Dick, let me start by commending you on your two decades of leadership here at the U.S. Institute of Peace.  I also want to wish you the very best as you prepare to step down after a long and distinguished tenure here.  Don’t get too comfortable in retirement – that comes from somebody who knows what the hell I’m talking about.

I am proud to have served in the House of Representatives when we passed the bill that established this institute back in 1984.  Under your leadership, this institute has transformed itself from a research center into an organization that provides invaluable expertise to prevent, to mitigate, and to manage conflict throughout the world, deploying staff to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and other conflict zones.  And that is really what was envisioned when we were working on the legislation at the time – not to just have a research facility, but to have a facility that would actively engage in the effort to preserve piece.

I did have the honor of serving on the Iraq Study Group which was indeed supported and staffed by the U.S. Institute of Peace.  It was Chaired by former Secretary of State Jim Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton.  And I truly believe the Report of the Iraq Study Group made an important contribution to the debate and the strategy that ultimately brought that war to a responsible end. 

This institute’s work has saved lives, and enhanced our national security.  In doing so, it really has stayed true to the spirit of the man whose legacy we celebrate tonight, Dean Acheson.

The historian Arthur Schlesinger once observed that “in a city of gray and anonymous men, Dean Acheson stood out like a noble monument from another and more vivid era.” 

Indeed, sixty years after serving as Secretary of State, and more than forty years after his death, Acheson’s unique blend of strategic brilliance and “personal bravura” are still well remembered in this town. 

Having just enjoyed the hospitality of your cocktail reception, I’m reminded of the time when a newly elected President Kennedy paid a call on Acheson at his Georgetown home.  Acheson offered him a martini, but Kennedy declined and asked for tea instead.  That deeply offended Acheson.  After all, according to a friend, “he never trusted a man who wouldn’t have a stiff drink with him.”

I know I would have been his very dear friend. 

In fact, I learned that Acheson and I share more than a love of a stiff drink.

We both rose to prominence in the executive branch when we were both relatively young.  And we were both fired from our jobs.  Acheson was fired from Treasury by FDR in 1933, and I was fired from the Office for Civil Rights by President Nixon in 1970. 

In both our cases, we first heard about it from the press. 

Acheson was eventually rehired by Roosevelt at the beginning of his third term.  I don’t think I was ever in danger of being rehired by President Nixon, and I made the wise decision to return to California. 

The nation was deeply fortunate to have the service of Dean Acheson.  There is perhaps no span of time in American history where the country faced more international turmoil, uncertainty and conflict than the decade during which Dean Acheson served in the State Department.  It began just months…[before] Pearl Harbor in 1941 and extended through the Truman administration. 

Despite our victory in World War II, when Acheson became Secretary of State in 1949, the global security landscape was ominous.  Stalin was at the height of his power, Western Europe lay in ruins, and we faced a crisis over the Soviet blockade of Berlin.  Within months, the Soviet Union would test its first atomic bomb and North Korea would invade the South.

In the face of these challenges and others, Acheson helped guide the Truman administration to take some bold actions – from the Marshall Plan and the Berlin airlift to the intervention in Korea – actions that asserted America’s strength, countered the Soviet Union, and helped lay the groundwork for our ultimate victory in the Cold War.

Dean Acheson was a leading proponent for bolstering and asserting America’s military might.  But Acheson also strongly believed that America should not seek to shoulder the burden and costs for global security alone.  Instead, he understood that a key part of a strong defense was to build the security capacity of allies and partners. 

That legacy is deeply relevant to the argument I want to make tonight.  In order to advance security and prosperity in the 21st century, we must maintain and even enhance our military strength.  But I also believe that the United States must place even greater strategic emphasis on building the security capabilities of others.  We must be bold enough to adopt a more collaborative approach to security both within the United States government and among allies, partners, and multilateral organizations.

From Western Europe and NATO to South Korea, from the Truman Doctrine to the Nixon Doctrine, working with key allies and regional partners to build their military and security forces became a major component of U.S. national security strategy after World War II. 

This approach has endured long beyond the Cold War, and for the United States military it has gained new – and appropriate – importance as a mission in the decade since 9/11. 

In 2006 – the same year as the Iraq Study Group convened – the Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review recognized the critical importance of having the authorities and resources to perform what it called “building partnership capacity.” 

Since then, as the United States helped turn the tide in Iraq and Afghanistan, confronted terrorism in the FATA, in Yemen, in the Horn of Africa and the Philippines, and participated in the NATO operation in Libya that helped bring down Qadhafi, the approach of working with and through others has only grown in importance to our mission of defending our country.  In particular, the task of training, advising, and partnering with foreign military and security forces has moved from the periphery to become a critical skill set across our armed forces. 

It is, in many ways, the approach that this institute has promoted for nearly three decades.   

Standing up the Iraqi Security Forces was central to our ability to bring the war to a responsible conclusion last December.  Achieving our goal in Afghanistan similarly depends on building an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself – a reality that is now guiding the strategy that General Allen is implementing on the ground as commander of the NATO effort. 

As the war in Afghanistan begins to wind down, the United States has an opportunity to begin to focus on other challenges and opportunities of the future.  But as we do so, the United States is grappling with a deficit and a debt problem that has led Congress to require us to achieve significant savings – nearly half a trillion dollars in savings over the next decade.

Unlike past defense drawdowns, and we have experienced those throughout the past, often times the threats the country was facing appeared to diminish.  But today, we still confront many challenges and many threats: the continuing threat of violent extremism – even though we have done significant damage to al Qaeda in Pakistan, we continue to have terrorism in Yemen, in Somalia, in North Africa; we confront the threat of weapons proliferation; we confront the threat of cyber intrusions; we continue to experience cyber attacks every day – it is, without question, a battlefield of the future; we continue to see the destabilizing behavior of nations like Iran and North Korea; the rise of new powers across Asia; and the dramatic changes that we’ve seen unfold across the Middle East and North Africa.

These challenges, coupled with the new fiscal reality, led us to reshape our priorities with a new defense strategy for the 21st century.  It is a strategy that places a greater emphasis on building the capabilities of others to help meet the security challenges of the future, and to sustain a peaceful and cooperative international order.  

This strategy is built on five key elements:

First, we know we are going to be smaller and leaner – that’s a reality – but we must remain agile, flexible, quickly deployable, and on the cutting edge of technology. 

Second, we must remain strong enough to confront aggression and defeat more than one enemy at a time.  If we face the threat of a land war in Korea, we have to be able to deal with that at the same time that we deal with the possibility of the closure of the Strait of Hormuz.  And we feel we’ve maintained that capability.

Third, we will also continue to invest in the capabilities of the future.  Yes, we obviously have to meet our responsibility with regard to reducing the deficit burden.  But at the same time we also need to invest – invest in cyber, invest in unmanned systems, invest in space, invest in special operations forces, and invest in the ability to quickly mobilize and also the importance of maintaining our industrial base. 

Fourth, our new strategy prioritizes the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East.  These are the areas with the most significant security challenges.  In those regions, we will retain and even enhance our military presence, to ensure that we can project power and deter aggression.  But we are also going to help more nations share the responsibilities and costs of providing security by investing in alliances and partnerships, as I explained at the Shangri-La Dialogue earlier this month. 

And lastly, we will maintain a presence elsewhere in the world, particularly in regions like Europe, Africa and Latin America.  We must use our best skills and our assistance to build new alliances, new partnerships throughout the world by engaging in exercises, in training, in assistance and in innovative rotational deployments. 

The benefits of this emphasis on a partnered approach to security were apparent to me during a trip that I took to Colombia in April.  There, the United States has spent years training and equipping the military to take on the FARC, a narco-trafficking terrorist organization.  Not only has Colombia made significant gains over the past few years against the FARC, it is stepping up to help combat illicit trafficking in Central America.  Colombia is now one of fourteen countries working cooperatively to disrupt narco-traffickers in Central America.  I also visited Brazil and Chile, and saw impressive demonstrations of their growing military capabilities – capabilities that are enabling them to contribute to security in Central America, Africa and across the globe.

What I saw in these countries reinforced a new reality.  In the past, the United States often assumed the primary role of defending others.  We built permanent bases.  We deployed large forces across the globe to fixed positions.  We often assumed that others were not willing or capable of defending themselves.

Our new strategy recognizes that this is not the world we live in anymore.  But implementing this new strategy will demand adjustments across the entire national security apparatus. 

Tonight, let me outline a Department-wide initiative – “Building Partnerships in the 21st Century.”  Its fundamental purpose is to improve our security cooperation across three broad areas:

  • First, by taking a strategic approach to security cooperation and making sure that we have comprehensive and integrated capabilities in key regions in order to confront critical security challenges;
  • Second, ensuring the Defense Department continues to enhance the skill sets and capabilities that are needed to build and sustain partnerships;
  • Third, streamlining the Department’s internal processes to speed up and improve security cooperation programs – and working with the Department of State and Congress to do the same.

Let me talk about the first point, which is a Comprehensive and Strategic Approach to Security Cooperation

I have urged the Department to develop innovative approaches to meeting future security challenges, approaches that take better advantage of the opportunities for partnership and help us to more effectively advance a common security vision for the future.  To that end, I’ve directed all of the geographic Combatant Commanders to think and plan strategically when it comes to security cooperation, including all their regional activities – from joint exercises, exchanges, and operations to more traditional forms of security assistance. 

During the Cold War, U.S. partnership efforts were principally directed at countering a single adversary, the Soviet Union.  In the 21st century, we must build partnerships that enable us to better meet a wider range of challenges. 

To that end, I see us building networks that leverage our unique capabilities – and the unique strengths of our allies and partners that share common interests – to confront the critical challenges of the future. 

That means continuing to work with nations in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and Asia to counter violent extremism.  It means working with partners in the Persian Gulf to strengthen their ability to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities, and it means advancing collaborative efforts with Israel to deploy systems like Iron Dome, which protects Israeli citizens against the threat of rockets.  It means investing in new capabilities with allies in Northeast Asia, such as missile defense, to counter North Korea.  We will also work to strengthen the maritime security and humanitarian assistance capabilities of key partners in the Indian Ocean and in Southeast Asia.  We will work with partner nations in the Western Hemisphere to tackle the challenge of illicit trafficking and response to natural disasters.  And we will strengthen NATO’s capabilities in missile defense, meet our Article 5 commitments, and ensure that we can conduct expeditionary operations with our European allies.  And we must ensure that they can assume a greater burden of the responsibility when we do engage. 

These networks will be supported by innovative, small-footprint deployments of U.S. forces and capabilities to key strategic locations around the globe – from Northern Australia to Singapore, from Djibouti to Rota.  Combined with our traditional forward presence and other capabilities, these deployments will enhance our ability to train and to operate with partners, and to respond to future crises.  

To succeed in these efforts, we have to coordinate even more closely with the Department of State.  My goal is for the Department of State to have a leading role in crafting and conducting U.S. foreign policy, so that we can reaffirm and strengthen our strategic approach to defense partnerships.  But it is also clear that building partnership capacity is a key military mission for the future. 

A second area is to enhance DoD’s capabilities in this area.

Building strong partnerships around the world will require us to sustain and enhance American military strength.  But all of the military services, and the Department as a whole, also must adapt as partnering with foreign militaries becomes even more of a mainstay of the U.S. defense strategy.  We have got to develop a “partnering culture.” 

To that end, those security cooperation capabilities and skill sets once considered the exclusive province of the special operations community will need to be built up and retained across the force and among civilians.  In particular, it is critical that we invest in language training and in cultural expertise throughout the Department.  Building the capacity of defense ministries and other institutions, which have not been a main focus of efforts, must become more prominent.  We need to work collaboratively with State, USAID and non-governmental organizations to help partner countries so that they can modernize and reform in a way that contributes to regional security.

The U.S. Army’s plan to align a brigade combat team with each regional combatant command – which will be rolled out next year with Africa Command – is one example of the kind of approach that will boost our partnership capabilities and regional expertise.

And more broadly, I want to see the military retain the hard-won capability to train and advise foreign security forces in support of stability operations like in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But I also want us to become better at working with more capable security partners on our shared security interests – particularly rising powers like Brazil and India [that] can make significant and positive contributions to global security and prosperity. 

And lastly, streamlining processes.

To better partner with our more capable friends and allies requires that we make our security cooperation processes more efficient and more agile.  As part of this effort, we are working with the State Department to ensure that our new and most flexible security cooperation tools – particularly the new Global Security Contingency Fund – are used to their maximum advantage.  These “dual key” programs – which require approval by me and by Secretary Clinton – have been a big step forward to create incentives for collaboration.  But our security cooperation programs still rely on a patchwork of different authorities, different funding, different rules governing defense exports depend on processes that are truly cumbersome and were built during the Cold War. 

I strongly support efforts to achieve comprehensive reform in these areas through legislation.  But I have also directed the Department of Defense’s senior leadership team to streamline and strengthen those security cooperation procedures that are under our control, and that maximize our use of the highest priority and most effective programs. 

We have also made substantial progress in facilitating defense trade with a broad range of allies and partners – an area I believe of critical importance to both our national security and the global economy.  As one indication, annual U.S. government foreign military sales have grown from an average of about $12 billion at the beginning of the last decade to an average of roughly $38 billion over the last three years.  There has also been a tremendous growth in cooperative acquisition efforts with allies and partners, including the Joint Strike Fighter and the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance programs, and in U.S. industry’s direct commercial sales of defense equipment and services abroad. 

Defense trade is a promising avenue for deepening security cooperation with our most capable partner nations.  Our on-going work in reforming our export control system is a critical part of fostering that cooperation.  Each transaction creates new opportunities for training, for exercises, for relationship building.  It also supports our industrial base, with roughly one third of defense industry output supported by defense exports.  This is important for American jobs and for our ability to invest in new defense capabilities for the future.  

India is one such country that would benefit from changes to our system.  While in New Delhi earlier this month I announced that my Deputy, Ash Carter, will work with Indian counterparts to streamline our respective bureaucratic processes to better enable defense trade.

It is clear to me that there is more that can be done to facilitate defense cooperation, with our traditional allies and our new partners alike.  We are working to make U.S. government decision-making simpler, faster and more predictable for our partners.  This means better anticipating their needs ahead of time, fast-tracking priority sales, and incorporating U.S. exportability requirements up front in the development process.  A new Special Defense Acquisition Fund is allowing us to begin procuring long-lead, high demand items in anticipation of our partner requests.  And we’ve also built Expeditionary Requirements Generation Teams that send acquisitions experts abroad to help our allies better define and better streamline their requests.  And a proposed Defense Coalition Repair Fund will allow us to repair equipment in anticipation of partner requests.

All these efforts are a priority for me, and for the Department of State.  And I firmly believe that judicious sales or transfers of capabilities to responsible governments are vital in maintaining peace and deterring would-be aggressors.  The security challenges of the future require us to partner, and the plan of action I’ve outlined will allow us to do so prudently – by protecting the “crown jewels” of U.S. technology while putting in place the programs and capabilities and processes to build partnership in the 21st century. 

But only some of this is within the control of the executive branch.  Congress too must also take action – and we will work with them to do so.

Speaking of Congress, the strategy I have outlined cannot succeed without their stable and consistent support. 

One of the greatest dangers to national security today is the partisan gridlock that too often fails to address the problems facing this nation.  I came to Washington over 40 years ago and in part of a different generation.  When I first went to the Senate as a legislative assistant, there were bold leaders like Senators Mansfield, Aiken, Russell, Javits, Jackson, Fulbright, Dirksen and others.  Republicans and Democrats who were willing to work together to meet our domestic and foreign challenges.  Even when I was a member of Congress, I saw Speaker Tip O’Neill and Congressman Bob Michel work with Senators Bob Dole and George Mitchell to address budget, social security and foreign crises together.

Too often today, the nation’s problems are held hostage to the unwillingness to find consensus and compromise.  And in the face of that gridlock, artificial devices like sequester are resorted to in order to force action.  But in the absence of action – in the absence of action –sequester could very well threaten the very programs critical to our national security – both defense and domestic. 

Any new defense strategy is dependent on new and innovative deployments, on diplomacy  and on assistance, and it must rest on a reliable political system prepared to make decisions on behalf of our national security.  That is a critical ingredient to the success of the partnership strategy I just outlined.

It is clear that even as we turn the page on a decade of war, the international security environment will remain complex and threatening.  But as we look at each challenge we face, it is clear that wehave many allies and partners who share an interest in helping advance a common security vision, and that we are more secure when they are more capable of helping us. 

Nearly fifty years ago, and more than a decade after he left government, Dean Acheson wrote an article called, and I quote, “The Practice of Partnership.”  In the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, Acheson argued for a revitalized military strategy to counter Soviet expansionism.  A key part of Acheson’s vision was for European allies to build up their conventional military forces, complemented by a strong U.S. force posture and nuclear deterrent.  He saw a strengthened network of Alliances as the key to security and prosperity in his time.

What I described tonight are some of the broad outlines for what I’ve called building partnership in the 21st century.  We must continue to map out a new path to build up the strength of our allies and partners around the globe, using both old and new tools.  We must, and we will, remain the strongest military power on the face of the earth, but more than ever – more than ever – our strength depends on our ability to govern and to lead, and it depends on capable allies and partners willing to help shoulder the burden of global security.  That is the key to preserving and protecting not just our national security but our democracy.

Thank you again for having me.  God bless you and God bless the United States of America. 

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