Remarks on “Transatlantic Thought” – Hungarian Atlantic Council

(as prepared)

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Rector Patyi, Professor Vizi, Minister Simicsko, dear colleagues, students and friends.  It is my great pleasure to be here with you today, and to address this conference on the significance of “transatlantic thought”.

It is also a great pleasure to share this panel with Minister Simicsko, and, through him, the Hungarian security and defense forces — our steadfast colleagues and partners.  This is the third time I have met Minister Simicsko.  One of our meetings took place in September, when I joined Major General Mark Bartman, adjutant general of the Ohio National Guard, on his official visit to Hungary.  The Ohio National Guard and the Hungarian Defense Forces just celebrated the 22nd anniversary of their partnership, one of the best military-to-military cooperation projects I know, and an excellent example of the breadth and depth of integration between our armed forces.

When I consider transatlantic thought and its importance, I am struck by the evolution over these 22 years of what “transatlantic” means, especially for those of us in this room.  In 1993, many nations on this side of the Atlantic – including Hungary – were emerging from the isolation and trauma from decades spent behind the Iron Curtain.  The idea of a European Union was merely a dream, and NATO membership was an aspiration and an inspiration for many new democracies.  Today, Hungary is a member of both the EU and NATO, as well as a member of the OSCE and many other international organizations.  It’s through those organizations that we, as nations, work together to address the world’s toughest trans-national challenges.  We did not get to this place because Hungary was forced out of isolation or into a partnership in name only, as was the case with the Warsaw Pact.  We are here today because of the enlightened Hungarian people, and their leaders who chose this path.  Time and time again they reaffirm this commitment, and they have been welcomed with our gratitude when they have done so.

The United States, as we know, is not a member of the EU.  There’s that tricky question of geography – the same that, alas, makes it impossible to entice Australia to join NATO.  But make no mistake: the United States is deeply invested in the health and success of Europe, its people, its economies, and its institutions.

Two years ago, my colleague Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia and a former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, gave a speech at the Atlantic Council calling for a “Transatlantic Renaissance.”  She said this:

“America needs a strong Europe, and Europe needs a strong America. The greater the transatlantic and global challenges, the more important it is that the United States and Europe address them together.  No other nations will step up if we don’t; yet other nations will and do join us when we, as a transatlantic community, lead the way and give collective action our shared seal of approval and our involvement and commitment. The world needs a community of free nations with the will and the means to take on the toughest challenges, and to work for peace, security and freedom wherever they are threatened.”

Not only do her words ring true today, I think is important to remember the timing of that speech – before the events that happened in Ukraine, when the Ukrainian people rose up in frustration against a government that tried to force isolation on its own people, and before the aggressive response of Russia, including the invasion of Crimea.

People may mistakenly accept the Cold War paranoiac view that the transatlantic relationship is based only on a negative – that is, that partnership and cooperation between America, Canada, and Europe only exists to counter the Soviet Union or Russia.  But we are a positive alliance, not a negative one.  The hallmark of transatlantic thought is this:  the transatlantic community exists because we are drawn together from common values to work together to achieve shared goals.  We come from a tradition of thought – and action – that makes clear we define ourselves based on who we are, not based on who we are not.

So, who are we, as NATO allies, today?

I was Ambassador-Designate in 2014 when my Embassy and our NATO allies honored the Hungarian government in celebrating the 15th anniversary of Hungary’s NATO accession.  I know many of you here today attended that event.  It is always an honor to come together and celebrate anniversaries of great events, as we will in ten days’ time to celebrate the brave efforts in 1956 of the Hungarian nation to overthrow the yoke of communism.  Hungary’s membership in NATO is particularly fitting, therefore, as a key ally in the most successful political and military alliance in the world.  That is definitely a project worth celebrating.

A year and a half after that anniversary, following the last NATO summit in Wales, and looking ahead to the 2016 Summit in Warsaw, it is a good time to reflect on some of the challenges we face.  At the Wales summit in 2014, our leaders worked together to address challenges from the East and the South.  They approved the Readiness Action Plan to respond to the changes to our transatlantic security environment.

As you probably know, the Readiness Action Plan laid down two main frameworks for addressing the challenges we face: assurance and adaptation.  It provided a comprehensive response to Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine and to the menace of terrorism from the Middle East and North Africa.  The assurance measures in the Readiness Action Plan have brought about an enhanced and continuous military presence of NATO forces in the eastern part of the Alliance, on a rotational basis.  This effort resulted in more than 200 military exercises in Europe in 2014 – including in Hungary, where the Hungarian Defense Forces have hosted highly successful multinational events.  It has seen an increase in air-policing patrols over the Baltics, including the first overseas deployment of the Hungarian Air Force, which is serving there right now.  And there are more patrol ships on the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

The United States has actively supported the Readiness Action Plan and all allies’ effort to fulfill it.  As an alliance, we must constantly strive to develop our capabilities — both joint and individual — and to upgrade, practice and deepen our interoperability and the integration of our forces.

And that integration is another pillar of the transatlantic idea, and its importance today.  It is joint exercises that help us coordinate our forces and enhance our strong, reliable partnerships.  As we speak, there are joint exercises going on all over Europe.  I recently had the honor of participating in one of them, and I rode with Hungarian and American cavalry in a Stryker across a pontoon bridge on the Danube — an experience that was one of the highlights of my being U.S. Ambassador to Hungary.  This Dragoon Crossing was part of the Brave Warrior 2015 exercise — seven nations working together, demonstrating our capabilities and interoperability as six NATO Allies working alongside our NATO partner country, Ukraine.

Another joint exercise under way is one of the most ambitious NATO activities that we have seen in over a decade.  Trident Juncture involves 36,000 personnel from more than 30 allied and partner nations.  The purpose of Trident Juncture is to train and test the new NATO Response Forces and to demonstrate our capabilities for interoperability in a high-intensity modern warfare scenario.  For example, just last week, the U.S. Marines landed an Osprey helicopter on a British Royal Navy aircraft carrier off the coast of Portugal, to get ready for Trident Juncture.  Air, land, maritime, and Special Forces are participating simultaneously in Italy, Spain and Portugal.  They will train in a complex environment, and test the full spectrum of allied and partner capabilities.

I think we all appreciate how important capabilities and interoperability are to our defense community.  Our military might and aptitude are well-prepared to tackle security challenges.  No doubt about that.  We know that, our partners know that, and our adversaries know that.

But an equally strong asset we have is the power of ideas and words — discussion, dialogue and debate.  And this is why it is important to remember the two parts of NATO – it is a military alliance, but it is also a political alliance.  When we decided that the two halves must remain equally important in our alliance, we also established an important principle that reflects transatlantic values.  We understood when NATO was founded in 1949 and we understand today that we cannot make an oath to stand together as allies if we do not have a high level of mutual trust, and an ongoing commitment to discuss and to resolve disagreements in a respectful, but frank, manner.

My job requires not only that I talk, but also that I listen.  I listen to Ministers.  I listen to politicians.  I listen to members of civil society.  I listen to leaders, to businesspeople, to students, to the military, to scholars, and to ordinary citizens.  Our security relationship with Hungary, both bilaterally, and through NATO, is characterized by discussions, working group meetings, and strategizing.  The broader Hungary-U.S. relationship is also about honest exchanges and friendly candor.  Friends can – and should — speak to friends this way.

That is the final pillar of the transatlantic idea: our shared democratic commitment and our willingness to talk about it, openly, together, with a shared commitment to work toward solutions.

As the global threats to our nations evolve, we need to continue building closer ties.  Upcoming NATO meetings will allow decision-makers at many different levels to create policies and translate them into action.  Last week, on October 8, defense ministers met to address the situation in Syria and Afghanistan, and the implications of Russia’s military activity.  They discussed the establishment of new NATO Force Integration Units in addition to the six current ones, to reinforce the Alliance’s collective defense and to look at its long-term adaptation.

Because while our military capabilities are clearly the brick and mortar of our alliance, thoughts and words provide the engineering know-how that make our house stand firmly on the political level.  Our liberty and openness in discussing just about everything is what makes us resilient, efficient, and not only reactive, but proactive in understanding and tackling challenges.  And, at the end of the day, these are the merits and values that we all came together to secure and defend in the first place. This is what defines us– this is who we are.

On that note, I look forward to the Q&A, and to discussing defense matters with all of you here today.  Thank you.