Seminar: “Portugal, NATO and the New Arc of Crisis”

Thank you Nuno Teixeira and the team at IPRI for partnership and for the coordination in putting together this seminar.
Also thank you to our friends and partners at FLAD for hosting the seminar.
Thank you Admiral McAlpine, my new friend, for accepting the invitation to be our keynote speaker today. And if I can improve my short game, and keep the ball out of the woods, perhaps we can also become golfing partners.
Thanks to all my ambassadorial colleagues and others in the diplomatic corps for your attendance at this seminar.
And thanks to all attending today. We hope this seminar to be a venue to exchange ideas in a frank way, with a spirit of finding common ground, a true democratic value that we hold dear.

The title of today’s seminar is “Portugal, NATO and the New Arc of Crisis” but the starting point is Portugal’s historical role.

The United States and Portugal have shared a close political, economic and strategic alliance, grounded in centuries of friendship between our two peoples.Our partnership with Portugal is robust and spans a host of areas – including international peace and security, human rights, shared social challenges, law enforcement, science and technology, and trade and investment.

In particular, Portugal has been and remains a key ally of the United States in the endeavor to keep the world safe, including in our commitment to NATO and to NATO’s missions.

Portugal has played an important role in NATO’s engagement in the Balkans and more recently in two engagements in Afghanistan. It has also stepped up to join the Coalition to Counter ISIL, and currently has trainers and advisors deployed to Iraq. Portugal is providing financial assistance to Kyiv via a NATO trust fund for military career transition. And last year, Portugal deployed fighters to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission and now is fully engaged in re-assurance measures in Romania and Lithuania.

Cooperation between our countries has been growing in cyberspace as well. In 2017 there will be a major NATO cyber training center here in Oeiras, and Portugal has committed significant whole of government resources along with the United States to cyber defense and security.

But the question that needs to be asked now – indeed what some may call the elephant in the room – is whether Portugal’s commitment in these areas will remain steadfast.

The Socialist Party seeking to take over government has announced their continued strong commitment to NATO. But their alliance partners from the Communist Party and the Left Block are opposite, going so far as to protest and condemn the recent Trident Juncture exercises? So if a new government does come into power, where will Portugal be on NATO specifically, and on military participation to counter security threats generally?

I ask this question at a time of significant challenges for NATO, for Europe and the world. Specifically in Europe, NATO faces immediate challenges on its eastern and southern borders.

To the east we have an aggressive Russia which has occupied and attempted to annex Crimea. It is providing personnel, equipment, and other direct support to combined Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, and is seeking to destabilize the country in other ways – including through economic pressure and political intimidation.

Russia’s aggression is of serious concern to Europe, and the United States. Indeed, the NATO countries in Eastern Europe have been almost totally preoccupied with this threat. And this is understandable since they have lived in the past under Russian control. When addressing those who deny Russia’s imperialistic intentions, they respond simply: “You don’t know Russians.”

Operation Atlantic Resolve is a demonstration of continued U.S. commitment to the collective defense of NATO, in light of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The United States is deploying on a persistent, rotational presence, company-sized units in the Baltic States, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria.

The Secretary of Defense has also announced plans to distribute a brigade’s worth of equipment among seven Allies to facilitate training and exercises in Europe. In addition, the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) funds over $1 billion in U.S. military activities in Europe as well as military construction and other infrastructure improvement projects across Europe.

To the south, bordering our NATO Ally Turkey, we have dramatic instability in Syria which created fertile ground for the rise of extremist groups like ISIL, which spread across the border from Iraq. And we now confront the reality of an increasingly interventionist Russia who, under the guise of fighting ISIL, has mounted a campaign to prop up its client—President Assad, further complicating an already impossibly complicated situation.

We see crushing outflow of refugees from Libya, Syria and Afghanistan swelling beyond NATO’s southeastern flank creating a migration crisis of international proportions, straining even the most generous of Europeans’ ability to cope. Today, there are 4 million Syrian refugees throughout the region. And we see political reactions throughout the world including in my country, of those who advocate closing our borders to legitimate refugees for fear of the infiltration of terrorists.

Also to NATO’s south we have the failing state in Libya. This country is further proof that military action cannot provide sustainable solutions. Military action can provide time and space for indigenous political solutions to take root.

NATO countries in southern Europe, particularly Portugal, do not look to the East as much but instead prioritize the threats to the alliance from instability throughout western and northern Africa—NATO’s southern flank.

In the wake of the horrible terrorist attacks in Paris last week, the imperative of degrading and defeating ISIL has never been clearer. As President Obama stated: “We’re going to do whatever it takes to work with the French people and with nations around the world to bring these terrorists to justice, and to go after any terrorist networks that go after our people.”

And as Secretary of State John Kerry said: “These are heinous, evil, vile acts. Those of us who can, must do everything in our power to fight back against what can only be considered an assault on our common humanity.”

The U.S. is employing a two-pronged approach to countering ISIL: we are intensifying our counter-Daesh campaign and we are intensifying our diplomatic efforts in order to end the Syrian conflict. And we believe these steps are mutually reinforcing and necessary.

Therefore, President Obama has authorized a small complement of U.S. Special Operations Forces –to deploy to northern Syria, where they will help coordinate local ground forces and Coalition efforts to counter ISIL. These forces will undertake a liaison and assist mission to support ground forces working to counter-ISIL. Recently U.S. led drone strikes targeted Jihadi John the grotesque purveyor of unspeakable cruelty and the head of ISIL in Libya. We are also enhancing our counter-ISIL military assistance to Jordan and Lebanon.

But we also know that ISIL cannot be defeated without de-escalating the underlying conflict in Syria. The chaos unleashed by the war has created a haven for Daesh and other terrorist organizations to thrive and attracts fighters to this battlefield.

Last Saturday, Secretary Kerry joined World leaders, including Russia, in Vienna to map out the path to a political process to end the conflict – including an agreement to bring both sides to the negotiation table by January 1 and support a Syrian-led transition process within six months including a ceasefire and UN-monitored elections.

As we know, President Hollande of France has characterized the recent attacks as an act of war and he has invoked Article 42 of the EU treaty which offers aid and assistance in the event of armed aggression on a member country. All 28 EU member states have responded by pledging full support for France.

Recently our Permanent Representatives to NATO, U.S. Ambassador Douglas Lute and Portuguese Ambassador Luis Sampaio, were here for Exercise TRIDENT JUNCTURE, during which we had the opportunity to engage in an interesting and dynamic discussion on NATO’s future.

Ambassador Lute observed that NATO has entered Phase Three in its history. Phase One was during the Cold War. Phase Two focused on the fall of the Berlin Wall and out of area operations in Kosovo, Libya and Afghanistan. Phase Three began with the recent Russian aggression in Ukraine and the rise of ISIL.

How should NATO view itself going forward in light of the challenges in today’s world? Those challenges go well beyond conventional threats. They now include asymmetrical threats as well as the potential for devastating cyber attacks.

The two Ambassadors agreed that NATO’s founding tenets were sound. The 28 members of the alliance shared a commitment to democracy and the same fundamental values. And that NATO needed to continue to focus on the basics: 1) collective defense, 2) cooperative security, and 3) crisis management; while adapting the Alliance to improve the speed, flexibility and effectiveness with which it can meet the current and emerging challenges.

And so as NATO continues to consider the threats faced by its member nations, it will be important to:

  • Remain flexible, both to change and adapt to new security threats and challenges.
  • Invest sufficient resources to develop the capabilities to deter, and if necessary respond to, these complex threats.
  • Continue its interoperability, not only nation to nation, but also sector to sector, institution to institution, etc.
  • Incorporate the political and diplomatic dimension, to address modern day security threats.

NATO’s mission is America’s mission. President Obama has said that smart leadership includes “building coalitions to meet new challenges and opportunities and leading – always – with the example of our values.”

When America engages around the world, our partners of first choice are right here in Europe. That is because we share a common history and common values, like our mutual commitment to tolerance, freedom of speech and human rights.

It is also because our Allies in Europe are among our most capable partners. Maintaining those capabilities requires steady investment, especially in light of current security trends in Europe. That is why Allies pledged at the Wales Summit to reverse the decline and move toward spending two percent of GDP on defense.

The U.S. doesn’t always need to take the lead role. We will support our partners in areas in which they have expertise. Portugal is a prime example. We applaud and highly support Portugal’s leadership and commitment to develop a NATO cyber defense education and training center. Portugal also has centuries-old relationships in Africa that allow access that the U.S. simply does not have. We do well to work with our partners as they lead in these areas. It just makes sense. In today’s complex world, and with economic pressures on militaries worldwide, it is smart business to partner and pool our military resources. NATO calls this Smart Defense.

Ultimately it is a coalition of like-minded nations, using all instruments of national power that must be brought to bear to contain and resolve crises.

Thanks again for the opportunity to speak to you all today. I look forward to hearing more about your seminar.