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Prepared Remarks: NAVEUR-NAVAF/C6F Foreign Policy Advisor, Counselor Sharon White, at Days of Security and Defense Cooperation

November 14, 2014 at 2:43 PM UTC
Summary:

The following prepared remarks are from U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet Foreign Policy Advisor, Counselor Sharon White, at Days of Security and Defense Cooperation in Malaga, Spain, Nov. 14. The event was hosted by the Forum for Peace in the Mediterranean; the topic of discussion was considerations on security-keeping in the Mediterranean.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to be here and to share with you some thoughts about American perspectives on security in the Mediterranean and beyond.

The following prepared remarks are from U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet Foreign Policy Advisor, Counselor Sharon White, at Days of Security and Defense Cooperation in Malaga, Spain, Nov. 14. The event was hosted by the Forum for Peace in the Mediterranean; the topic of discussion was considerations on security-keeping in the Mediterranean.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to be here and to share with you some thoughts about American perspectives on security in the Mediterranean and beyond.

Peace and security is a common goal we hold for the Mediterranean. But “peace” is a vague term. “Peace on whose terms?” may be the better question. Or, put a different way, “what kind of peace”? Even more challenging is the question of what we mean by “security.”

If I had asked you five years ago—or even last year—“What will be the most pressing security issue in 2014?” I would imagine that not a single one of you would have replied: “A medical emergency in Africa.”

And yet that is where we are today.

Suddenly, the very meaning of the word “security” has been altered and takes on new dimensions.

The advent of the Ebola crisis—so close to home—comes as a surprise to virtually all of us. And yet we should not be surprised by new security challenges. We are constantly striving to adapt to unexpected crises and unanticipated trials.

1644072Recently, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Cadets at our U.S. Military Academy at West Point this sobering thought:

“When it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect. We have never once gotten it right, from the Mayaquez to Grenada, Panama, the Balkans, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq, and more—we had no idea a year before any of these missions that we would be so engaged.”

Secretary Gates is not alone in voicing the need for humility when it comes to anticipating security challenges.

Former U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and CENTCOM Commander General James Mattis have expressed similar thoughts on our inability to predict future security threats.

And recently the NATO Wales Summit Declaration affirmed that “Our Alliance remains an essential source of stability in this unpredictable world.” In this context, it captured NATO’s commitment by citing three core tasks: “collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security.”

Today we are faced with a wide array of threats and challenges that call for coordinated actions among allies, and within our own governments:

  • The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—and all those who share the same ideology, tactics, and goals
  • The States that support terrorist groups
  • Malicious cyber-attacks in the form of systemic theft or hostile intrusion
  • Piracy at sea
  • Unprecedented waves of illegal immigration across the Mediterranean
  • And the Ebola virus

I hesitate to predict what the most daunting security challenge of the next decade will be. And of course, as much as we would like to do so, we cannot take traditional warfare off the list. We want to believe that we can make war obsolete, and we should continue to believe this and work toward this end.

History, however, provides little comfort in this regard. Some decades ago, the historians Will and Ariel Durant calculated that there had been only 268 years of peace in the previous 3,421 years. We must be prepared to face war, even as we join together to prevent it.

I have reflected on many of these security challenges over the years, first as an academic, then as a 30-year career diplomat, and recently as a State Department official assigned to U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa outside Naples, Italy.

The element of surprise is compounded by the intertwining of history and geography in shaping how we draw on the past to help define our future. Inevitably, we each have different perspectives.

For the United States, as Henry Kissinger, among others, has pointed out, the view is significantly shaped by our neighborhood: we border two great oceans and two great countries with which we have enjoyed many years of peace and friendship.

This explains in part why the 9/11 tragedy in New York was so traumatic for the American people, redefining the meaning of “security” and giving it a new and immediate urgency.

I know there are those in this room who have devoted their lives to understanding and finding better ways to deal with traditional and evolving security issues at home and across the globe.

Spain has proven itself to be a strong and committed ally. It has undertaken a broad and significant role in support of our shared security priorities. The partnership we have enjoyed is impressive, even remarkable. As our Ambassador to Spain, James Costos, has often said – Our military to military relationship has never been stronger. Spain has committed troops to train forces in Iraq as a contribution to the coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. It has deployed troops, working with NATO, the UN and the EU to address crises in Afghanistan, Bosnia, the Central African Republic, Lebanon, Mali, Somalia, and Uganda, inter alia.

Most notably from the U.S. perspective, Spain has hosted U.S. troops for over 60 years. Today, several thousand American military members and their families enjoy the warm hospitality of the Spanish people. Whether supporting NATO ballistic missile defense, or destruction of Syrian chemical materials, or protection of U.S. diplomatic facilities in North Africa, Spain stands firmly by our side.

It is often cited that our bases contribute to the Spanish economy, including nearly $200 million to Spanish businesses in 2013. The money is important to the hosting communities, but the essence lies in the broad strategic defense partnership on which both our nations -- and our other NATO allies -- rely. The human element, fostered by proximity and shared experience, is irreplaceable.

In the few months that I have been in my current assignment as the Political Advisor to Admiral Ferguson, I have gained an appreciation of the many practical activities and daily routines that support our security.

First, our command takes international engagement very seriously. All of our planning takes place in the context of considering our allies and partners. We know that our interests are not always perfectly aligned, and that we will not always see everything the same way. This is natural.

But on the biggest issues, there is a strong, enduring alignment of interests. This audience knows that each of us is unable to meet the vast number of security challenges alone.

To increase collaboration and interoperability, we engage in a great number of military exercises, Naval, Joint, and multi-lateral. There has been a particular focus, in recent years, on exercises with our Mediterranean partners in the Mediterranean itself, in the Black Sea, and off the coast of Africa, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea. For example, Spain has been a key ally in supporting the U.S. Navy’s Africa Partnership Station (APS) program, which focuses on maritime capacity-building efforts throughout the African continent and involves a consortium of Euro-Atlantic partner navies. Maritime exercises designed to assess the effectiveness of the progress include PHOENIX EXPRESS in North Africa, SAHARAN EXPRESS in northwest Africa, OBANGAME EXPRESS in the Gulf of Guinea, and CUTLASS EXPRESS in east and southern Africa. Spain participates in both Saharan and Obangame Express.

This year we have held seven large multilateral exercises in the Mediterranean region, and we have organized more than thirty-five smaller training and capacity-building programs. In Spain alone, last year we conducted 45 bilateral exercises to improve diverse skills on both sides.

Exercise PHOENIX EXPRESS is a perfect example of our collaboration to address maritime security threats in the Mediterranean. We have conducted this exercise together with Spain for many years. This naval exercise involves sharing best practices for maintaining an awareness of threats on the sea and also how to deal with them. In addition to boarding suspicious vessels at sea, next year’s exercise will also focus on another important element of maritime security in the Mediterranean, illegal immigration. Spain will play an important role in strengthening interoperability with allies and partners for fighting illegal immigration across the Mediterranean.

Spain’s leadership has been pivotal in other aspects of maritime security as well. A Spanish naval officer, Rear Admiral Eugenio Diaz del Rio, recently led the NATO task force under Operation ACTIVE ENDEAVOUR, which is a counter-terrorism mission in the Mediterranean. Admiral del Rio also led the NATO task force under Operation OCEAN SHIELD, which is the counter-piracy mission in the Indian Ocean.

All of these international exercises and operations serve to enhance interoperability, build maritime domain awareness capability, and provide reassurance that U.S. interest in maintaining the Transatlantic Alliance remains as strong as ever.

These activities cover the full range of operations—from boardings and counter-piracy to practicing elements that will help prepare our forces for major combat operations.

Beyond exercises, the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet continues to consider ship visits an essential component of our international engagement efforts. Ship visits are where ordinary people from host countries can see for themselves what the U.S. Navy is all about, putting a human face on the headlines and the clichés. I understand U.S. naval ships visited Malaga, Mallorca, Rota and Ferrol in the past year alone. Our port visits in the Mediterranean area so far this year total just over sixty.

Another priority of our command is the realization of our plans to station four ballistic missile defense (BMD)-capable Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in Rota.

The move is of strategic significance. It is part of the Obama administration’s plan known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach. It is informed by the President’s vision of providing “stronger, smarter and swifter defenses of American forces and America’s Allies.”

Forward-basing Aegis destroyers in Spain complements the construction of Aegis Ashore installations in Romania and Poland as our component of EUCOM’s response to the growing ballistic missile threat.

It will protect allies in the European region from such threats, and it will continue to demonstrate our desire to work both bilaterally and through NATO to provide security in the region.

USS Donald Cook arrived in Rota in February this year, and USS Ross joined the Rota community last June.

The Carney and the Porter arrive next year, completing the transfer of four destroyers to Rota, and providing a quantum improvement in NATO’s ability to respond as needed with forward-deployed BMD capability.

This transfer of our most advanced BMD-capable ships to Spain is a compelling example of how we are committed to responding to the changing security environment and how we depend on our friends to support our efforts and make their own contributions to our common goals.

As our host, Spain provides significant support. To cite just one example, Navantia, a Spanish shipbuilding company, won a $229 million, 7-year contract to provide maintenance for the ships involved in this mission. We benefit from their expertise, while providing jobs for Spanish workers.

With demonstrated ballistic missile programs in North Korea, Iran, and potentially elsewhere, it is our responsibility to counter those threats and provide security to the Alliance.

Indeed, NATO has adopted ballistic missile defense as a core Alliance competency. The prime example of this integration is the Smart Defense Flagship Initiative, which Spain has graciously volunteered to lead. Through this NATO Flagship initiative, Spain will become the engine for Allied integration into the sea-based Air Defense Unit part of the BMD mission.

Specifically, the NATO 2010 Strategic Concept states that the Alliance will: “develop the capability to defend our populations and territories against ballistic missile attack as a core element of our collective defense, which contributes to the indivisible security of the Alliance.”

In Wales the importance of this core NATO task was noted again, specifically citing the deployment of Aegis Ashore in Romania and the “forward deployment of BMD-capable Aegis ships to Rota, Spain.”

The four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that will be stationed in Spain are a prudent, necessary response to the alarming rise in ballistic missile threats.

20140725-N-EM343-116  ROTA, Spain (July 25, 2014) – The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) returns to Naval Station Rota from her first patrol since arriving in the U.S 6th area of operations. Donald Cook, forward deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting naval operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist William Clark /RELEASED) 20140725-N-EM343-116
ROTA, Spain (July 25, 2014) – The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) returns to Naval Station Rota from her first patrol since arriving in the U.S 6th area of operations. Donald Cook, forward deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting naval operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist William Clark /RELEASED)

 

One last area of focus at 6th Fleet that I would like to mention in particular as a career U.S. diplomat is the essential role the military plays in preparing and updating our plans in response to evacuation emergencies.

As a career diplomat in the State Department, I had long been aware of the priority that the military puts on “planning” for all of its many responsibilities.

Now that I am assigned to a military command, I see every day how seriously military leaders take planning. The military, in particular, does not like surprises, especially because mistakes can be very costly.

And so facing instability in the world, especially in areas that have a direct impact on the Mediterranean, such as North Africa and the Middle East, my command devotes extensive resources to detailed planning to address multiple contingencies.

Planning is something the U.S. military does extremely well. They prepare plans and review plans and revise plans and rehearse plans. As Cervantes wrote, “El hombre bien preparado para la lucha ya ha conseguido medio triunfo.”

Yet it is hard to plan well for an unknown threat. This is where President Obama’s emphasis on “whole of government” in his approach to international engagement plays a crucial role. Our collective efforts must reflect contributions from all aspects of engagement, including defense, diplomacy and development (the “three D’s,” as we call them). All three elements are critical not only as theory, but as ground truth.

I would propose that military planning is more resilient and more effective when it is informed by the full spectrum of national security interests and tools. Finding the right balance among the three D’s is not easy, but it is essential.

Similarly, the full range of activities carried out at U.S. Naval Forces Europe and 6th Fleet Headquarters is designed to engage with our partners at every opportunity. We are constantly striving to strengthen relationships with our partners, find new areas of cooperation, and build on our achievements. This creates the resiliency we need not only to execute plans, but to adapt them in real time as circumstances change.

And, as I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, responding to surprises seems to be a basic characteristic of the modern national security environment.

Take the recent example of the response to the use of chemical materials in Syria. One would not have predicted how events eventually played out. President Obama ordered Naval forces to station off the coast of Syria, poised to strike. But due to a diplomatic agreement that was reached almost at the last moment, these Naval forces ended up carrying out operations to remove the chemical materials from Syria, and subsequently render them harmless.

The container ship MV Cape Ray (T-AKR 9679) travels in the Mediterranean Sea after flight operations Aug. 8, 2014. The U.S. government-owned Cape Ray was modified and deployed to the eastern Mediterranean Sea to dispose of Syrian chemical agents in accordance with terms Syria agreed to in late 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Desmond Parks/Released) The container ship MV Cape Ray (T-AKR 9679) travels in the Mediterranean Sea after flight operations Aug. 8, 2014. The U.S. government-owned Cape Ray was modified and deployed to the eastern Mediterranean Sea to dispose of Syrian chemical agents in accordance with terms Syria agreed to in late 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Desmond Parks/Released)

 

These operations required extraordinarily close diplomatic and military cooperation, and constant engagement with our Mediterranean partners. Spain, as you know, played its role, as did Italy, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Russia, China, and others.

Such operations demonstrate yet again, from our perspective, the critical value of strong partnerships with friends and allies.

We will face many more challenges in the days ahead. While the security challenge in the headlines today is a very serious health threat with origins in three African countries, at next year’s conference we may find ourselves worrying about a different set of grave threats.

It might be cyber. It could be a dramatic change in the nuclear weapons capabilities of Middle East nations. It could be further attempts to overturn the status quo in European borders. It could be additional terrorist attacks stemming from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and those whom it inspires around the world.

Or it could be a natural disaster associated with climate change and the disruptions it brings.

And so, while the topic “Security and the Mediterranean,” is hardly new, the security picture in the Mediterranean is always changing and always presenting new security challenges.

The Wales Summit spoke of the “risks and threats emanating from our southern neighborhood, the Middle East and North Africa.” It also celebrated twenty years of the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue and ten years of the Istanbul Cooperation initiative.

The Mediterranean world holds out the promise of bringing continents and cultures closer together. Unfortunately it has at times proven the difficulty of this task.

The same modern currents that have opened new opportunities for many across the globe have also created, as the Wales Declaration states, a “complex, more crowded, rapidly evolving and increasingly unpredictable maritime security environment,” including, of course, the Mediterranean. This is true, even as the economic importance of the global maritime domain is increasing.

President Obama focused on some of these dichotomies in his address to the United Nations General Assembly this year. “We come together at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope.” The Mediterranean still functions as a crucial region, one where fear and hope meet. While the Mediterranean only represents about 1% of world seas, approximately 20% of global shipping and 30% of the world’s crude oil moves through it.

Even the World Economic Forum in its Top Ten Trends report finds that experts all over the world consider rising societal tensions in the Middle East and North Africa to be the biggest challenge facing the world in 2014.

If we can enforce international norms in this part of the world, if we can reject what the President termed the “cancer of violent extremism” in this crucible, then we can take a decisive step towards creating the world “as our children deserve it to be.” I think President Obama’s words express a goal all of us can share.

“May you live in interesting times” is a widely repeated phrase, attributed (perhaps incorrectly) to an “ancient Chinese curse.” Regardless of its origin, it resonates in our world as an ironic commentary. The same could be said, focusing on geography rather than time. “May you live in an interesting place.”

The Mediterranean is certainly an interesting neighborhood. Sometimes it can be an intersection of turmoil, but it also offers a microcosm for resolving core issues. The Mediterranean, as I hope my remarks have helped to define more clearly, remains a fundamental testing ground for bringing nations together. The lessons we learn here can have a lasting impact at home and across the globe.

Some experts considering Mediterranean security focus on efforts to integrate the diverse nations and cultures that border the Sea. Should our objective be to increase this integration? Others see the region as a string of separate pearls, with the emphasis on appreciating individual differences. This model stresses finding ways to cooperate or at least live in peace with one another. Some debate whether there are inevitable conflicts built into the soil and sea of this beautiful region.

While I agree that such topics can be revealing, it seems to me that we are in a period where the future vision for the Mediterranean remains fluid.   Finding a shared vision can help focus us on our common aspirations, even if there is no one definitive Mediterranean dream. Despite the difficulties, and recognizing the price, let us resolve to continue working together for the future of the Mediterranean, drawing on all of our collective experiences and skills in defense, diplomacy and development. I think we may be surprised by what each of us can contribute and what together we can achieve.

Thank you for your attention and for your friendship and partnership with my command, my country, and the American people.

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