Remarks by Chargé d’affaires Kristin Kane at Instituto Universitário Militar – “The U.S. Strategy in the Current Context”

The U.S. Strategy in the Current Context”
Remarks As Prepared for Delivery

 Instituto Universitario Militar
General Officer Promotion Course (CPOG) 2021/2022

Kristin M. Kane – Chargé d’Affaires, ad interim
U.S. Embassy Portugal

March 30, 2022

Bom dia.  Thank you for the kind introduction.  It is a pleasure to be here today at the Instituto Universitario Militar, together with our Defense Attaché, Colonel Andrew “Saint” Bernard, and Political Officer Danielle Korshak.

It is my honor to speak with you today.  I spoke to last year’s graduating class by video – and although it is never as enriching as to speak in person, the conversation we had was thought-provoking and gave the Colonel and I a lot to reflect on.  As both the Colonel and I transfer out of Portugal due to our assignment time, ending, it is a special pleasure I know for both of us to do this once again – with you, in person.

First and foremost, congratulations:  I’d like to congratulate all of you on your selection to the General and Flag Officer Promotion Course.  You are the future leaders of the Portuguese – and Brazilian – Armed Forces and Gendarmerie and will help shape the future of the important relationship between our countries.

Portugal is always special to us:  You are a NATO Ally, one of only a dozen founding members unlike say Spain that joined only decades later.  Portugal is also a strong European Union member state for the past 46 years, having joined when the EU was a much smaller organization.  Portugal did a fantastic job hosting the EU Presidency last year, bringing accomplishments in many areas, including in defining the importance of Europe working with democracies in Asia – or as we say, the Indo-Pacific region.

I am very happy to see there are Brazilian officers in this distinguished group – just before coming to Lisbon, I worked for three years at our Embassy in Brasilia during which time we helped secure Major Non-NATO Ally Status for Brazil, an important milestone and in recognition of the size and strength of the Brazilian military.  It is an honor that only Brazil and Argentina had until just a few months ago, when we accorded the same to Colombia.  Brazil, Portugal, and the United States have many shared interests, perhaps none stronger than defense and security in the Atlantic which allows us – and compels us – to work with our west African partners as well.

So, I am here speak to you about the U.S. strategy in the current context.  There are two main principles guiding our strategy and how we approach the world: first is the importance of the values that underpin democracy, and the need for countries with these values to protect them and strengthen them at home and abroad; and second, is working with our partners and allies to protect the rules-based international world order that contributes to our shared peace and prosperity.  From Europe to Brazil to Africa, these principles guide how we engage each region of the world.  So let me explain.

First, on the principle of democracy:

My career as a diplomat has given me the opportunity to work around the world and whether it be in Europe, Brazil, or Africa, one theme has remained constant over my 20+ year career: Democracy.

Today, more than ever, the future of the United States and that of our partners and allies, like Portugal, is linked to events beyond our shores.  We confront a global pandemic, international economic uncertainty, regional instability, humanitarian crises, and a deepening climate emergency.  Of course, we now also have an agonizing war in Europe – a war of choice that was unprovoked and unjustified.  While there appears to be a glimmer of hope after the latest peace talks, the effects of this war are nowhere near finished.

Not just in Eastern Europe, but democracy is under threat around the world.  We face a world of rising nationalism where free societies from within are challenged by corruption, inequality, and illiberal threats to the rule of law.  Authoritarianism is on the rise, and states like China and Russia and other anti-democratic forces are working to erode existing international rules and promote alternative models of authoritarian governance.  They use whatever tool is available to them, like weaponized corruption and disinformation, to exploit perceived weaknesses and sow division within and among free nations.  In the United States and even in Europe, our partner in establishing and maintaining the global rules-based order for the past 77 years, we see our democracies being challenged.  Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine just places renewed importance on working together to strengthen our democracies.

Make no mistake – democracy is fundamental to meeting the challenges of our time, an idea that Vladmir Putin fundamentally misunderstands, and those who support him call into question as well.  Reversing anti-democratic trends around the world is essential to our national and collective security.  As Winston Churchill famous noted, democracy isn’t perfect.  But it is the cornerstone of what all functioning societies want to build: economic opportunity, fundamental freedoms, and security and stability that enables people to live lives of dignity.

The Biden administration has committed to strengthening U.S. democracy at home.  This requires hard work on our part to live up to our promise as a nation of immigrants, improve economic opportunities, and increase the rule of law.  We recognize that diversity is one of the greatest strengths of the United States and that by being more diverse, we are not just better, but we are stronger and smarter.  Everyone should enjoy the benefits of a democracy and have equal opportunity to achieve their full potential – women, people of color, and other minorities as well as LGBT+ people, whom we have taken strides to include in many sectors, including our Armed Forces.  We appreciate discussing these issues with Brazil, a country with a racial history and make-up similar to our own; and Portugal, a country with a colonial past that seeks to integrate people of color in its modern and sophisticated places of work.

Second, on the principle of working with our partners and allies:

The idea is simple and is the over-arching goal of our foreign policy:  We recognize that no one country can act alone to address the immense international challenges.  That is why one of President Biden’s early foreign policy priorities was to re-establish American leadership at the United Nations and other international organizations, where our common values, security, and prosperity could be protected and advanced.  Within days, weeks, or months of taking office, the United States re-joined the Paris Climate Accord; the World Health Organization last year; and the Human Rights Council.  President Biden, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense have made notable efforts – and many verbal reassurances – that our commitment to NATO is steadfast.  Indeed, as terrible as the war in Ukraine is, we are reassured to see NATO as resilient and resolute as ever.  We also applaud European efforts to take charge of their security and increase defense spending.

Our partnerships are strategic – we can do so much more when we come together and share responsibility.  As a founding member of NATO, Portugal understands that the strength of the Transatlantic relationship comes not only from its responsible use of military power, but also from its unity and common purpose founded on respect for democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.  As a Major Non-NATO Ally and a massive country that borders 10 countries (indeed, all countries of South America save Chile and Ecuador) and has not had a single conflict in well over 100 years, we know Brazil also values these goals.

The defense cooperation we have with Portugal, NATO Allies and non-NATO allies, and other partners is critical.  Our armed forces train together, plan together, and work together – and that makes us stronger together.  For example, Lajes Air Field on the Azores since World War II has served as an important symbol of U.S.-Portuguese cooperation where our armed forces work side-by-side.  In turn, our defense cooperation contributes to our shared prosperity and stability because our relationship is founded upon democratic principles and sustained by common values.  Our security, our prosperity, and our freedoms are interconnected like the three points of a triangle and depend on our cooperation and collaboration.

President Biden’s Summit for Democracy, in which both Portugal and Brazil participate, is setting goals to strengthen democracy, from anti-corruption efforts to increased transparency, to press freedoms – all values that Putin gives no relevance to leading a deeply corrupt nation, lying to his people, and shutting down independent media that refuse to lie.  At the Democracy Summit last December, we brought together world leaders, civil society, and the private sector to work towards renewing democracy and tackling the threats we face collaboratively.  This year is the “Year of Action” as we all build to carry out our commitments and then gather again, in person, later this year.

Portugal has been active to strengthen democracy in other ways this past year, contributing to Atlantic security and beyond.  In October, Portugal hosted the NATO parliamentary assembly.  More than a dozen U.S. members of Congress, including the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the third most powerful person in our government, and Portuguese-American members of Congress like Jim Costa, came to Lisbon to attend the event.  Together these legislators underscored our Transatlantic commitment to shared values.  At the conclusion of the gathering, they urged NATO to place democratic resilience at the heart of discussions about the future of the Alliance, and they recognized the link between democratic resilience, societal resilience, and security.  Little did we know last October how important those pledges would turn out to be as President Putin amassed his troops shortly afterwards around the democracy that threatens him.

I’ve explained the two main principles guiding our foreign policy.  Now that we have the shape of a triangle imprinted in our minds, I’d like to explain – in brief – how we with our partners and allies do this in each region to build a better future.

On Russia and Ukraine

In Europe, we share historic common values and a commitment to democracy, free markets, and human rights, especially over the last 77 years.  In the aftermath of World War II and the start of the Cold War, democratic nations underscored their commitment to living in a free world.  We, like Portugal and Brazil, always favor diplomacy over war.  As we saw concerning behavior by Russia, we worked with our partners and allies to find diplomatic solutions and assist Ukraine.

U.S. cooperation with partners and allies to deter Russia is steadfast and strong, exemplified by our swift and unified response: We have provided security assistance and humanitarian aid, and are bolstering our shared defense.  The United States has provided over 2 billion euros in assistance to Ukraine; we will welcome 100,000 Ukraine refugees, we have sanctioned 140 Russian oligarchs, 400 Russian government officials, and over 400 private multinational companies – many of which are American – have pulled out of doing business in Russia.  Sanctions from the United States, the EU, and others including Switzerland and Singapore have put real pain onto Russia so that it, too, can feel the costs of its choice of war.  As a result of these sanctions, the ruble has plummeted, and its economy which was once the 11th biggest economy in the world will soon not even rank among the top 20 in the world.

Just as President Putin’s brutal attack strengthened Ukrainian resolve it also strengthened NATO – the premier defensive alliance.  President Putin sought to sow divisions among the Allies but he did not succeed.  Long term solutions will make us stronger – namely, we need to move towards clean, renewable energy and we are grateful for Portugal’s leadership on this.  For our economic and national security, Europe must end its energy dependence on Russia.  We must stay unified.  We will prevail.

On Africa

We know that on some of the most urgent challenges and opportunities we face, Africa will make the difference.  African states have 54 votes at the United Nations.  We can’t achieve our goals around the world – whether that’s ending the COVID-19 pandemic, building a strong and inclusive global economy, combating the climate crisis, or revitalizing democracy and defending human rights – without the leadership of African governments, institutions, and citizens.  After only 50 or 60 years of independence, African nations are still growing but we see them as partners.

We want to build new partnerships in Africa, invest in civil society and strengthen long-standing political, economic, and cultural connections.  We help African nations combat the threats posed by climate change and violent extremism and support their economic and political independence in the face of undue foreign influence, democratic progress, and the rule of law.  The Lusophone countries which form part of the CPLP are critical to this effort, and Portugal’s participation and leadership are essential.  However, stability, security and future prosperity are under threat by state and non-state actors:

China has increased its debt diplomacy with African countries and its predatory financing often comes in the form of unsustainable loans and credits provided by its state banks.  It illegally and overfishes African waters, destroying local economies.

The Russian Wagner group is deployed in Libya, Central African Republic, and Mali.  In these places Wagner forces stoked conflict and increased insecurity and instability, causing the deaths of local soldiers and civilians, and undermining national sovereignty – all while depleting the national treasury and diverting essential resources that could and should have been used to build the capabilities of the countries’ own armed services.  That is why the EU sanctioned the Wagner group and 11 of its associates.

ISIS and extremism present threats across the continent.  We work with many countries, including Portugal in the “Defeat-ISIS” Coalition.  In Mozambique, we are very grateful for Portugal’s leadership and coordination with the United States on support provided to the Mozambican armed forces in its fight against ISIS, and we applaud Portugal’s leadership on the EU Training Mission with Brigadier General Lemos Pires.  In the Sahel, we commend the Multinational Joint Task Force and applaud the role France in particular has taken.

Non-state actors also pose serious risk to maritime safety and security, such as pirates and armed robbers in the Gulf of Guinea.  But we have a collective response: the Africa-led Yaoundé Architecture for Maritime Safety and Security, which was supported by Friends of the Gulf of Guinea, and in the Nigerian-led Deep Blue Project and Maritime Collaborative Forum.

As Portugal’s leadership on maritime safety and security shows through its Atlantic Center, it is critical that we have a coordinated and comprehensive response to threats.  Our coordinated responses help build the capacity of our maritime partners, and we are proud to be signatory members of the center.

On the Indo-Pacific  

Just like in Africa and the Atlantic, coordination is also critical in the Indo-Pacific region.  We choose to work especially with the big democracies of the region – India, Japan, Korea, and Australia.  We have also strengthened our relationships with regional partners like New Zealand and Singapore, and worked to empower and unify the regional organization, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

We are maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait amidst increased tensions and challenges by China.  While not ignoring North Korea’s nuclear ambitions that pose significant challenges and is a threat to regional stability, China continues its coercive and aggressive behavior in the region.  We must stand up to the challenges the PRC poses to our values, collective security, and to the international order.  This includes human right violations in Macau, such as restricting freedom of assembly and political participation, not to mention Hong Kong and Xinjiang.  You are aware that we launched a U.S.–UK–Australia joint security strategy, and we welcome also the European Union’s own Indo-Pacific strategy.  Indeed, there is much coordination between the two.

On the Western Hemisphere

I always like to talk about this region quoting my old boss, former Ambassador and chief diplomat for the region Thomas Shannon: “It is a Portuguese-speaking continent surrounded by some Spanish-speaking countries.”  He said this of course in reference to the size of Brazil, like the United States, a continent-sized country with a population in the hundreds of millions and one of the biggest economies in the world.

In the Western Hemisphere, we rely on strong partnerships with governments, civil society, and the private sector to advance fair trade, sustainable economic development, and to reduce poverty.  We also work together to counter threats of drug trafficking, transnational crime, and illegal immigration.  We support democracy, the rule of law, and good governance to strengthen our national security and our economy.

Now, as the two largest democracies and economies in the Western Hemisphere, the U.S.–Brazil partnership is rooted in a shared commitment to expanding economic prosperity; promoting international peace, security, and respect for human rights; and strengthening defense and security cooperation.

We also work through regional forums like the Organization of American States and champion the Inter-American Democratic Charter, put into place the very day of the September 11th attacks in the United States.  Along with Portugal which has hundreds of thousands of citizens not only in Brazil but in Venezuela, we support the democratic aspirations of people oppressed by the authoritarian Venezuela regime, as well as the people in Cuba and Nicaragua.

As recently as February, the United States alongside 19 countries and the European Union, including Portugal and Brazil, met to reaffirm our commitment to a Venezuelan-led negotiated solution to restore democracy in Venezuela.  We stated our support for an inclusive, diverse, and unified democratic opposition in Venezuela.

Finally, on the Middle East

The promotion of democracy has been complex in this region.  We want to highlight the value of education, the rights of women and girls, and enhance the freedom of the press and religious freedom to help it grow, while working with allies and partners to disrupt al-Qaeda and related terrorist networks and prevent an ISIS resurgence.

We maintain our commitment to Israel’s security, while seeking to further its integration with its neighbors and find a long-term peaceful two-state solution.  We work with our regional partners to deter Iranian aggression, mis and disinformation and threats to sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We also do not believe that military force is the answer to the region’s challenges.  That is why the past and current Presidents of the United States concluded our combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It is not a pull-out or withdrawal as we are still very much focused on helping those nations transition to functioning democracies.  In the case of Afghanistan, in the midst of a difficult summer last year, we evacuated close to 150,000 people, mostly Afghans, to safety, many of whom are now relocated in the United States and Europe –in the case of Portugal, the girls’ national soccer team of Afghanistan and the national Afghan youth orchestra.




There is so much more we could talk about – cyber warfare which is a new and growing threat, and disinformation, the antithesis of democracy which threatens that which we hold dear.  But let me start to bring this long speech to a close, summing up a few topline points:

Democratic values and working with our partners are principles that have and will continue to guide us in our approach around the world.  We consider Portugal to be one of our most reliable allies.  We have depended upon Portugal for support in almost every peacekeeping and peacemaking effort that the United States, NATO, and the United Nations have led since the end of the Cold War.  Brazil is an important partner on so many issues, including defense, and we are proud it is now our major non-NATO Ally.

Together, we have spent decades building the rules-based international system.  We’ve done so out of a shared recognition that it benefits all our nations and all our people when governments accept certain constraints on their actions rather than living in a world where the strong do what they can and where those who are less powerful feel coerced and threatened.

Autocracies like Russia and China are undermining democracy worldwide.  This is not just about the United States or the West but democracies around the world, in Asia, in Latin America, and Africa.

The stakes are high, but we are confident in our abilities as an international community.  In short, while it won’t be easy, we believe in the global rules-based order that we’ve built and that democracy itself will prevail.  It must.  It is what humans naturally year for – and demand.


Since it is the month of March, women’s history month, I would like to end with a note that I am delighted to see some women in this room.  I am also delighted that in three weeks, we will welcome the next U.S. Ambassador to Portugal, only the 2nd female Ambassador we have had in over 200 years of relations.  In Portugal, being sworn in today is the first-ever female Minister of Defense.  These are important steps forward.

Sheryl Sandberg, the former Silicon Valley Executive who authored the famous and revolutionary “Lean In” study, recently wrote a piece that there is never war between countries led by women.  There are women leaders in the world today, but in my view, not enough of them, so we may not yet have tested out her hypothesis – but she is likely on to something:  We know that women bring different perspective to leadership, have unique skills in negotiation and conflict resolution, and are of course, half the world.  I recently joined a conversation with American women leaders in foreign policy, including our foreign Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.  Most of the women panelists had a mixed background of defense, academia, and diplomacy.  One of the women shared that in her years in the U.S. military, nobody ever questioned who she was (a young woman), and she was struck after joining academia and then diplomacy about the kinds of questions she received, on her, on her person, that seemed to question her actual being there.  The U.S. military has long been a leader as the great equalizer – for gender, race, and other backgrounds; and I suspect this is true for your militaries as well.  So I want to laud all military colleagues who treat people simply on their merit, congratulate the integration of women into your armed forces, and celebration women’s contributions in the field of defense here, and around the world.

And I conclude this speech despite all the challenges in the world today nonetheless grateful and optimistic because we have a strong ally like Portugal beside us in the fight for a prosperous future.

Thank you.  Obrigada.