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Hagel Reassures Friends and Allies at Manama Dialogue

“Nations are stronger - not weaker, stronger - when they work together against common interests”

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reassured friends and allies at the recent International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Manama Dialog security policy discussions in Bahrain.

Hagel talked about the importance of a comprehensive nuclear solution for Iran. “No strategy is risk-free,” said Hagel. “Diplomacy takes courage. It takes vision. But our emphasis on diplomatic tools should not be misinterpreted. We know diplomacy cannot operate in a vacuum. Our success will continue to hinge on America’s military power, the credibility of our assurances to our allies and partners in the Middle East that we will use it.”

“Diplomacy takes courage. It takes vision. But our emphasis on diplomatic tools should not be misinterpreted. We know diplomacy cannot operate in a vacuum. Our success will continue to hinge on America’s military power, the credibility of our assurances to our allies and partners in the Middle East that we will use it.”

Hagel said that as secretary of defense, it is his responsibility to maintain America’s key defense relationships. “These security interests include defending against external aggression, ensuring the free flow of energy and commerce, dismantling terrorist networks that threaten America or its allies, and stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction.”

“Our commitment to these core interests is absolute,” Hagel said. “The interim agreement with Iran calls none of them into question.”

Manama Dialogue

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is escorted through an honors arrival ceremony by Bahraini Lt. Gen. Sheikh Mohammed Al Khalifa, Minister of State for Defense Affiars, in Bahrain on Dec. 5, 2013. Hagel was in Bahrain to speak at the Manama Dialogue. U.S. Department of Defense photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

The U.S. will continue to maintain a strong military posture in the Gulf region, he said, so as to be able to “respond swiftly to crisis, deter aggression, and assure our allies,” and stated that the U.S. will not make any force structure adjustments in the region as a result of an agreement with Iran.

“Although the Department of Defense is facing serious budget constraints, we will continue to prioritize our commitments in the Gulf, while making sure that our military capabilities evolve to meet new threats,” Hagel said.

“We have honored our commitment to Gulf security by enhancing our military capabilities in the region. We have a ground, air and naval presence of more than 35,000 military personnel in and immediately around the Gulf.”

He talked about the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the “rebalancing toward the Asia Pacific.” He said the “Pacific Pivot” was not a turning away from the Middle East.

“We have honored our commitment to Gulf security by enhancing our military capabilities in the region. We have a ground, air and naval presence of more than 35,000 military personnel in and immediately around the Gulf,” Hagel said.  “Two years after our drawdown from Iraq, the U.S. Army continues to maintain more than 10,000 forward-deployed soldiers in the region, along with heavy armor, artillery, and attack helicopters to serve as a theater reserve and a bulwark against aggression. We’ve deployed our most advanced fighter aircraft throughout the region, including F-22s, to ensure that we can quickly respond to contingencies. Coupled with our unique munitions, no target is beyond our reach. We’ve deployed our most advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to provide a continuous picture of activities in and around the Gulf. And we have fielded an array of missile defense capabilities, including ballistic missile defense ships, Patriot batteries, and sophisticated radar.”

Manama Dialogue

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks at the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain on Dec. 7, 2013. U.S. Department of Defense photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

Hagel said the U.S. routinely maintains a naval presence of more than 40 ships in the broader region, including a carrier strike group, and conducts a range of freedom of navigation operations, including approximately 50 transits of the Strait of Hormuz over the past six months.

“Earlier this year, we ramped up our minesweeping capabilities and added five coastal patrol ships to our fleet in this region. We are currently working on a $580 million construction program to support the expansion of Fifth Fleet capabilities,” he said.

“U.S. capabilities are not in isolation of our partners’ capabilities. Over the last three decades, we have helped Gulf nations become some of our most capable military partners. Going forward, the Department of Defense will place even more emphasis on building the capacity of our partners in order to complement our strong military presence in the region.”

While in the region, Hagel visited the Navy‘s afloat forward staging base (AFSB), the USS Ponce, a ship that serves as a platform for mine countermeasures aircraft and boats, special operations teams, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies.

Coalitions and partnerships are a critical element in the U.S. security posture in the region. “U.S. capabilities are not in isolation of our partners’ capabilities. Over the last three decades, we have helped Gulf nations become some of our most capable military partners. Going forward, the Department of Defense will place even more emphasis on building the capacity of our partners in order to complement our strong military presence in the region. Our goal is for our allies and partners in this region to be stronger and more capable in dealing with common threats,” Hagel said.

Manama Dialogue

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks at the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain on Dec. 7, 2013. Hagel reassured participants that the U.S. was still firmly committed to the Middle East. U.S. Department of Defense photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

“As we strengthen our bilateral relationships throughout the Gulf, we are also committed to advancing multilateral cooperation between our allies and partners, especially through the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Nations are stronger – not weaker, stronger – when they work together against common interests. Closer cooperation between the GCC and the United States is in all of our countries’ interests. The United States has been a force for advancing Gulf cooperation since the GCC was established more than 30 years ago,” he said. “This will not only continue, but accelerate in the years ahead.”

“The world is smaller every year.”

“The world is smaller every year,” Hagel said. “We will continue to exert that influence only if we are willing to continue to share – share in the responsibility for keeping the peace around the world. It will be our own tragic loss if we were to shirk that responsibility.”

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...