Panetta: Defense Alliances Key to 21st Century Security

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brief the media at the Pentagon, Oct. 25, 2012

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Washington, DC – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said on Oct. 25 the United States has a national security asset unique in the world: its defense alliances and security partnerships.

During a Pentagon press briefing with Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the secretary said those partner nations are essential to meeting the challenge of projecting power and maintaining presence in an era of decreasing resources.

“… A vital pillar of the new defense strategy that we released this year is the important work of developing and deepening ties to other nations,” he said. “… This is one of the keys to the defense force that we’re trying to build for the 21st century.”

Investing in those relationships and helping other nations build their defense capabilities, he said, allows the United States to defend its interests and share the burden of international security.

Panetta noted that both in the Pentagon and during official travel, he spends a lot of time fostering alliances and partnerships.

“Yesterday, as you know, I met with my South Korean counterpart, Defense Minister Kim [Kim Kwan-jin], as part of our regular dialogue with allies in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said. “Our goal there is to continue to strengthen the 60-year alliance that we have with the South Koreans for the future.”

Earlier this month he consulted with a number of European allies and International Security Assistance Force partner nations at the NATO defense ministerial in Brussels, “where we came together to affirm our commitment to the international mission in Afghanistan,” Panetta added.

Before the NATO meeting the secretary attended the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

“At that conference, nations of this hemisphere agreed on a concrete plan to improve humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” the secretary said. He added that agreement reflects what he believes is a new era of broad, constructive defense cooperation in the Americas.

“Our goal is to continue these efforts,” Panetta said.

The secretary noted Dempsey is scheduled to travel soon to Israel, where he will observe US and Israeli forces conducting the largest ever annual Austere Challenge exercise.

“The goal of this historic three-week exercise is to improve our combined ability to defend against missile attacks by exercising our active missile defense and air defense forces and systems,” Panetta said.

As with all military exercises US forces conduct with allies and partners, he added, “… This is all about teamwork and making sure that our forces have the capability to be able to cooperate when necessary. Using rotational deployments under our new defense strategy, we will be conducting more of these kinds of exercises with nations across the globe.”

In early November, he added, he and Dempsey will take part in the annual US-Australia ministerial meeting, which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will also attend. From there, Panetta said, he will proceed to Cambodia for meetings with Asian defense ministers, while the chairman is scheduled to visit South Korea.

Both Panetta and Dempsey pointed out the United States and its allies and partners are already working together, largely by applying international economic and diplomatic pressure, to contain risks posed by Iran, Syria and North Korea.

“Everything we are doing with regards to Iran — the sanctions that we put in place, the diplomatic pressures that we bring on Iran, all of the efforts to try to pressure them to back off of their efforts to develop a nuclear capability — all of that is aimed at trying to get them to the negotiating table,” the secretary said.

Those negotiations must bring results, he emphasized: “… not just to talk, but to get things done. And, unfortunately, we still have not gotten things done.”

He said the international community seeks negotiations with Iran “that are productive and that lead to real progress in terms of them backing off of their nuclear program.”

Panetta listed North Korean threats: developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, pursuing nuclear weapons and enriching uranium. South Korea, Japan and other countries in the Asia-Pacific are involved, with the United States, in ensuring “we can defend ourselves against the kind of provocation and threats that emerge out of North Korea,” he added.

Dempsey told reporters he just finished hosting the 36th annual military committee meeting with his Korean counterpart Gen. Jung Seung-Jo, chairman of the Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The forum, the chairman said, reinforces the two nations’ commitment to combined defense, keeps their capabilities and plans aligned, and guarantees “that we are always ready in the event of a North Korean provocation.”

In Israel, Dempsey said, the exercise he will view integrates US air, land and seaborne missile defense capabilities with Israel’s anti-missile forces.

“I look forward to observing our combined forces with my Israeli counterpart, with Lieutenant General Benny Gantz,” he added. “As always, I look forward to getting his perspective on regional security issues.”

Dempsey responded to a reporter’s question by saying Austere Challenge is not intended to send a message to Iran.

“First of all, this is an annual exercise,” he said. “Secondly, it’s an exercise not only for the kind of capabilities that Iran might deploy, but also for shorter range rockets and missiles.”

What US leaders intend through the exercise, he said, “is to demonstrate our commitment to Israel for their … defense against ballistic missile attack, rockets and missiles.”

US defense alliances run deep, the chairman said. “Trust reinforces our common interests,” Dempsey said. “Confidence reinforces our combined capabilities. And it’s this kind of trust and confidence that makes our strategy work.”

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