Good morning. I am delighted to be here with you all, and am grateful to my former colleague, Ambassador Stuart Holliday, and Meridian International for hosting us in this remarkable and historic setting.
Over the years, as I have walked through those magnificent oaken doors, like many of you, I always notice the Latin inscription above them which reads “Quo habitat felicitas nil intret mali” – which I believe means “Where happiness dwells, evil shall not enter.”
And it occurred to me, with minor adjustment, it could easily be the motto for our international security partnerships: Quo habitat amicitia nil intret mali: Where friendship dwells, evil shall not enter. Let me explain:
I stand before you at a difficult time for American partnerships – at a time when, for the first time perhaps since the end of the Cold War, many nations look at partnering with America on matters of defense and security not as an imperative, but as one of several options. Today I would like to make the case for why choosing the United States as a security partner remains far and away the best choice for nations around the world.
First, I would like to address the competitive environment we face. It is true the United States remains far and away the greatest provider both of direct security through the deterrence of our alliances and the presence of our global forces, true we remain the single greatest provider of grant security assistance, to the tune of over $10 billion a year between State and Defense, and, true we remain far and away the most significant source of defensive equipment for countries around the world.
But it is equally true our competitors are turning to arms sales and security assistance as key tools to build their own influence around the world, and to weaken ours. Through the targeted marketing of systems like the S-400, Russia seeks to exploit the genuine security requirements of partners to create challenges in our ability – legal and technological – to provide them with the most advanced defensive capabilities. And through a combination of cut-price systems such as unmanned aerial systems, predatory financing mechanisms, and sometimes outright bribery, China is using arms transfers as a means of getting its foot in the door – a door that, once opened, China quickly exploits both to exert influence and to gather intelligence.
And at the same time, it is true there are a number of longstanding criticisms of U.S. security assistance and arms transfers whose basis in facts we cannot ignore – and indeed, must address.
And so today I would like to take a fine toothed comb to that competition; to address those criticisms; and, to make absolutely clear why the positive case for the United States as the security partner of choice is stronger now than ever.
Competitor Efforts: A Summary and Critique
Let me first talk about the efforts being made by our strategic competitors to proliferate arms around the world. We have come a long way since the AK-47 became the ubiquitous symbol of Soviet-backed insurgencies from Southeast Asia to Africa. Today, Russia is working hard to foist variants of its S-400 air defense system around the world, while China is supplying everything from armored personnel carriers to armed drones. To quote another Latin phrase – caveat emptor! – Buyer, beware. We have seen countries around the world leap at the chance to obtain high-tech, low cost defensive capabilities, only to see their significant investments crumble and rust in their hands.
In Africa, Cameroon procured four Harbin Z-9 attack helicopters in 2015: one crashed shortly after being handed over. Kenya invested in Norinco VN4 armored personnel carriers – vehicles that China’s own sales representative declined to sit inside during a test firing. But since going ahead with the purchase regardless, sadly dozens of Kenyan personnel have been reportedly killed in those vehicles, with Kenya’s The Standard writing in an editorial that “It is saddening that even after such deaths, our officers continue to patrol the border on pick-up trucks and sham Chinese-made armoured personnel carriers, despite the omnipresent danger of running over IEDs.” Caveat emptor!
And similarly, amongst our partners in the Middle East, we’ve seen instances in which countries that have procured Chinese CH-4 armed drones have found them to be inoperable within months, and are now turning around to get rid of them. Caveat emptor!
Or let’s talk about the training offered by China. You are all, of course, familiar with the United States’ own International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, through which we bring officers and NCOs from our partners into U.S. schoolhouses where they sit beside our own personnel, receiving the same world class training. Not so in China. Foreign trainees may be wooed by the offer of unit-scale training in China, but on arrival they are disappointed to find themselves not spread among the elite Chinese training academies, but are lumped together with forces from around the world of significantly varying quality in China’s International Military Education Exchange Center – a facility whose lackadaisical approach to military education is well below the standard China provides to its own officers. Caveat emptor!
Criticisms of U.S. Security Assistance and Arms Transfer Policies & Process
I will now turn to some of the criticisms levied against the U.S. as a security partner, which fall broadly into two categories: matters of policy, and matters of process.
Let us start with which is the most pressing and visible at this time: our reliability as a partner at a time where the debate in Washington about our assistance and arms transfers appears more politicized than ever.
Earlier this summer, when this Administration advanced, via Emergency Certification, a range of arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan, Congressional opposition was sufficient for passage of three Joint Resolutions of Disapproval, and while these fell far short of the votes needed to overcome the President’s veto, it is no secret that such opposition contributes to doubts about the U.S. as a supplier in times of need. And similarly, it was only within the last few weeks that, in response to Turkey’s incursion into Syria, we ourselves from within the Administration made the decision to restrict arms sales to the Turkish Ministry of National Defense.
Why, on a matter so critical to a nation as its national defense, should it partner with a nation whose willingness to continue to supply it during a time of crisis may be found lacking?
I will answer with three words: quality, transparency, and accountability.
First, U.S. defense industry produces the best defensive equipment on the planet. Our cutting edge technology, the skill of our workmanship, and the demand driven by our own world-leading military combine to mean that when a country obtains U.S. origin defensive systems, it is obtaining the best.
Second, U.S. arms transfers are not a matter of secrecy, and rarely are the decisions surrounding them. Unlike the determinations made in Beijing or Moscow, our major foreign military and direct commercial sales are managed via a process whose policies are clear and transparent, and whose approvals are public. To anyone who asks whether a sale is likely or not, I would refer you to the Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, most recently reissued by President Trump in 2018. In this public document, you will find all arms transfers are vetted against the same factors, which includes regional balances of power, restraint against proliferation, and impact on human rights. And I would refer you as well to our own website where scores of country policies applicable to our direct commercial sales are published, available to all. And I would point you to the Congressional Record, where every arms sale notification is listed, and where the debate of the Members of Congress on such sales is recorded.
Yes, it is true different circumstances warrant different considerations of sales – and the actions taken by partners may indeed weigh into the question of what capability the United States is willing and able to transfer to them. But this is true for every supplier of arms. What makes America uniquely different is that while each transfer undergoes a case-by-case review relevant to its specific context, the policy that frames our decisions is known, our processes recorded, our decisions public. This is the most basic form of dependability: it is the epitome of transparency, integrity and accountability.
There are a number of complaints hoisted that relate more to the process by which U.S. arms transfers occur, such as the cost of U.S. equipment and the length of time it can take for delivery.
In response to these concerns, when President Trump issued the 2018 Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, he included in its text something no President had done before: a directive for the interagency to come up with a plan to implement the policy, including by looking across the scope of the security assistance enterprise for solutions to some of these long-enduring criticisms. So let me update you on what we have actually accomplished:
We made the foreign military sales process faster and cheaper, reducing the time it takes from receipt of a partner’s request to making an offer by nine percent, while reducing the overhead fees captured by the FMS Admin surcharge from 3.5 percent to 3.2 percent and lowering several FMS Transportation rates by between one percent and 7.5 percent, saving foreign partners approximately $180 million in the past year alone.
And at the same time, we expanded the procurement options available via foreign military sales, by establishing an interagency Non-Programs of Record (NPOR) “Community of Interest” and a common IT database that enables USG and industry cooperation to facilitate the transfer of non-Program of Record equipment to partners, while at the same time we have established exportability guidelines that must be built in to the requirements development process for all Department of Defense development programs.
We heard the criticisms: and are actively responding, making the processes support U.S. arms transfers more efficient than ever.
Advantages of Partnering With the U.S.
But in the end, building a security partnership with the United States is the best choice not because we are improving our processes; not because our competitors’ assistance and weapons sales are ridden with traps, seen and unseen; but rather because even setting aside all of those considerations, a partnership with the United States remains unique in the vast advantages that it brings. Let me now make such positive case:
The United States is the preeminent global security partner in both the capabilities we provide, and the reassurance that comes with our friendship. U.S. defense equipment remains far-and-away the most capable in every warfighting domain, from the F-35 to the Theater High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD), from our electronic warfare suites to our early warning radars, from the Apache in the air to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle on the ground to the Multi-Mission Surface Combatant in the oceans.
Another anecdote: for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the United States provided Guinean and other peacekeepers with high quality armored vehicles whose blast protection has saved dozens of lives against IED and other threats in northern and central Mali.
And beyond this, the foreign military sales system continues to come with a series of guarantees unmatched by any competitor: when you buy FMS you obtain the same pricing as the U.S. military services; you participate in a system that is resistant to corruption; and, you get the total package approach: not just a defense article, but a defense capability, from the training required to use, maintain, and integrate it into your doctrine and operations, to the parts and components required for long-term maintenance and support.
And as part of that total package approach, I am proud to say we are engaged in a broad effort to assist partners in reducing civilian casualties during conflict – a priority that makes not just tactical and operational, but also moral, sense. We are doing so by developing comprehensive training approaches for foreign partners, building such training into all relevant sales, and ensuring the capabilities we transfer support our partners’ abilities to deploy U.S.-origin munitions in an effective manner that will contribute to mitigating the risk of civilian harm.
These are challenging times. We are naïve if we believe countries around the world have no choice but to partner with America. It is true, if we scratch the surface of the offers laid out by our adversaries we find failed systems, flawed training, false bargains. And it is important countries around the world understand the risks of choosing to procure systems from China or from Russia. But while it is important that we lift the veil on our strategic competitors, it is more important that we make the case for why partnering with America is not just the better choice, but indeed the best choice.
It is the quality of our defense equipment. It is our commitment not just to make deals, but to build capabilities. It is the transparency, accountability, and predictability of our policies and processes. And it is the reassurance that comes from partnering with the United States military.
To all those who would defend their nations, a partnership with America offers something a purchase from Russia or China never will: friendship.