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Media Availability with Secretary Panetta

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - May 9, 2012

                 CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY:  Thank you, Senator Hagel and Senator Warner, and good to see you as always.  Don't let the uniform fool you; I actually do care about the sea.  (Laughter.)

                 I do want to mention one thing.  The senator was talking about NATO, and I -- this last week I was over in Brussels meeting with our chiefs of defense, the 28 of us who are the leaders of our respective armed forces.  And our -- my Canadian -- we were talking about the Asia-Pacific, and they were asking me, what does it mean, this shift to the Pacific, this rebalancing to the Pacific?  And I was explaining all of that.  And then it occurred to me to remind them that NATO has a border on the Pacific; it's actually the western border of Canada and the United States.  So in a way, the North Atlantic Alliance has interests in the Pacific just as much as they have interests in the Atlantic.

                 With that, it's my privilege to join Secretary Panetta today to speak in support of the Law of Sea Convention.  My voice joins past and present senior civilian and military defense leaders to include our Joint Chiefs of Staff, and it echoes every chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since the convention was first sent to the Senate in 1994.

                 This long line of support has been so consistent because of what the convention would do for our armed forces.  It codifies navigational rights and freedoms essential for our global mobility.  It helps sustain our combat forces in the field.  It includes the right of innocent passage through foreign territorial seas, the right of transit passage through international straits and the right to exercise high-seas freedoms in foreign exclusive economic zones, all without permission or prior notice.

                 It affirms the sovereign immunity of our warships and other public vessels, and it gives us the framework to counter excessive claims by states seeking to illegally restrict movement of vessels and aircraft.  Now, these are all rights and capabilities that we want and that we need.  In fact, they are of our own making.  We negotiated them into the convention to advance our national security interests.

                 Of course, we could always rely on the same approach we used 200 years ago.  At that time, we commissioned the Navy's first ships to safeguard our seaborne merchants against the Barbary pirates.  But the force of arms does not have to be and should not be our only national security instrument.  The convention provides an additional way to navigate an increasingly complex international security environment.

                 Aside from the compelling practical benefits, ratification now represents an unprecedented opportunity.  First, the convention offers an opportunity to exercise global security leadership.  Over 160 nations are party to it, including every Arctic nation and permanent U.N. Security Council member.  Even so, the world looks to us for leadership.  We have the world's largest and most capable navy, the world's largest economy and the largest exclusive economic zone.  We will become the leader within the convention as soon as we enter it, and that's never been more important.

                 On, over and under the oceans, nations are making competing claims or posturing themselves to restrict the movement of others.  These actions impact the United States, but they impact our allies and our friends even more.  As a party to the convention, we can help resolve conflicts, strengthen alliances and foster innovative partnerships.  We have never been better poised or more welcome to lead a global security order benefiting all peaceful nations.

                 Second, the convention secures legitimate global freedom of access for our armed forces.  Today we rely on customary international law and assert it through our physical presence:  warships and aircraft transiting and challenging illegal restrictions.  Some say this alone is sufficient.  But it plays into the hands of foreign states that over time want to bend customary law to restrict movement on the oceans, and it puts our warships and aircraft on point to constantly challenge their claims.

                 Now, we're strong enough for this role.  We can and will continue to defend our interests, and we'll do that with force when necessary.  But we can also be smart.  We can leverage law to mitigate the need for physical assertion.  Under the Law of the Sea Convention, we can be both, that is, both strong and smart.

                 Finally, joining the Law of the Sea Convention will strengthen our strategic position in Asia.  The western Pacific is a mosaic of competing claims for territory and for resources.  This is a critical region where, as a Pacific nation, our security and economic prosperity are inextricably linked.  We have a vested interest in mitigating any conflict in the Asia-Pacific before it occurs.

                 The convention gives us another tool to effectively resolve conflicts at every level.  It provides a common language, and therefore a better opportunity to settle disputes with cooperation instead of cannons.

                 In closing, the convention provides a stable and predictable legal framework, which has never been more important to the United States.  It validates the operations we conduct today and realizes our vision for a secure future.  It seizes on an opportunity to lead in a way that advances our strategy while preserving our freedom of action for generations to come.

                 Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today and for your support of the armed forces of this great nation.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

                 SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA:  Thank you very much, John.  I really appreciate your kind introduction and thank you for your commitment to public service and your great contribution to this country.  We all have -- all of us who had the chance -- many of us have had the chance to serve with you have tremendous respect for your many years of service and you've served this nation both in uniform, as a leader at the Department of Defense, and of course in the United States Senate. 

                 Good afternoon, and it's a pleasure to be able to be here with Marty Dempsey, my pal over there in running the Department of Defense.  And you don't have to worry; that place is so damn big, and there are so many people that they don't even know we're here right now.  (Laughter.)  Eisenhower said it was such a huge complex building that you could walk in a major and come out a general.  (Laughter.) 

                 And I think it -- David Brinkley had another good one.  He said there was a lady who went up to a guard in the Pentagon and said, sir, can you help me; I'm pregnant, and I'm about to deliver a baby.  And the guard said, ma'am, you should not come into this building in that condition.  (Laughter.)  And she said, when I came into this building, I wasn't in that condition.  (Laughter.)  It's a big -- a big place.  (Laughter.) 

                 And it's a -- it's a great privilege to have a chance to be here to discuss an issue of such immense importance to our nation's prosperity and to our nation's national security.  I want to commend, obviously, Senator Warner, the Pew Charity's Trust (sic), Chuck Hagel, and the Atlantic Council.  Let me commend Chuck too for his leadership in support of this country's long overdue ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention. 

                 Now, let me also acknowledge Senator Trent Lott, who I had the pleasure of serving with in the House.  And let me tell you:  Seeing here -- him in this room, I feel a hell of a lot better about the possibility of ratification.  (Laughter.) 

                 This afternoon, I'd also like to pay tribute to another statesman that has long supported the ratification of the convention, Dick Lugar.  He is a friend, and he's a tremendous friend to national security and a friend to our nation's oceans.  This country has benefited immensely from his many years of leadership in the Senate, on foreign policy, on national security issues.  He is, in every sense of the word, a statesman.  And these days, as my colleagues -- my former colleagues here all know, most important thing is those that are willing to reach across and to try to see if they can find solutions to the problems that confront this country.  And he often reached across the aisle to try to find consensus on some of the most challenging issues of our times, and that's what leadership is all about.

                 Our country desperately needs that kind of bipartisan spirit and leadership that Dick Lugar embodies.  And I guess, what an enormous tribute to Dick Lugar's distinguished career and what a great legacy it would be for him if we were able to ratify the Convention on the Law of the Seas in his watch.  I think that would be a wonderful thing to be able to do.  (Applause.)

                 As many of you know, I've long been passionate about oceans policy and the need to be able to work with and develop and to protect our marine resources -- this is a very important resource for this country, for ourselves, for our children and for future generations.

                 My love of the ocean goes back to my childhood along the California coast.  My grandfather was actually in the Italian merchant marine, used to sail in the great sailing ships of the day around the world, fished off California, fished off Alaska.  I was born and raised in Monterey, and it's a community, as many of you know -- fishing community that was made famous by John Steinbeck in his books, particularly the one on Cannery Row.  Central California coastline, I can say very objectively, is one of the most beautiful in the world.  And it is.  And one of my proudest accomplishments as a member of Congress was establishing the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

                 President John Kennedy once said that our oceans are the "salt in our blood," and I think that's true.  They are critical to the very life of our nation:  critical to our health, to our economy, critical to our recreation, critical to our weather systems, critical to our trade and critical to our security.

                 Recently, before I took the jobs in the administration, I had the honor to chair an oceans commission and later co-chaired the Joint Oceans Commission Initiative with Admiral Jim Watkins.  Both commissions confirmed the importance of our oceans.  But more importantly, both strongly supported the accession and ratification of the Law of the Seas Convention.  The time has come -- the time has come for the United States to have a seat at the table.  The time has come for the United States to fully assert its role as a global leader and to accede to this important treaty.  It is the bedrock legal instrument underpinning public order across the maritime domain.

                 We are the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that is not a party to it.  China, France, Russia, Britain, other countries, Germany, India, 161 countries -- 161 countries have ratified this treaty and approved it.  We are the only industrialized country in the world that has not approved it.  This puts us at a distinct disadvantage, particularly when it comes to disputes over maritime rights and responsibilities, when we have to engage those 161 other nations, including several rising powers, which are already parties to that treaty.  In years past, several Senate committees -- they've examined the convention, they've examined its various elements in hearings.  And earlier committee votes were approved by large bipartisan majorities.  Accession also has the broad support among major U.S. industries.  And this is an important point.  This isn't -- this isn't just something that's supported by the diplomatic community, the environmental community.  This is supported by the business community.

                 Companies that are dealing with offshore oil, dealing with offshore energy, shipbuilding, commercial shipping, communications companies, on and on and on, industries that have to deal with our offshore resources -- they need this treaty to do business.  They need this treaty to be able to do their business and to accomplish their goals.

                 The same is true when it comes to national security.  You have already heard the importance that Chairman Marty Dempsey attaches to U.S. ratification of the treaty.  His views are echoed by leadership throughout the Department of Defense, by the chief of naval operations, by the commandant of the Marine Corps, by the Coast Guard commandant, as well as other leaders throughout the Pentagon and throughout our national security apparatus.  Let me take a few minutes, if I can, just to outline why I too believe that this treaty is absolutely critical to U.S. national security, why it is time to move forward with this important issue, and why the longer we delay -- the longer we delay, the more we undermine our own national security interests.

                 The United States is at a strategic turning point after a decade of war.  I've made that point time and time again.  We're facing obviously the requirement that we reduce the defense budget by $487 billion over the next 10 years pursuant to the directions of the Congress and the Budget Control Act.  This is one of the few times in our history that as we begin to come down from a war and from a period of threats to our national security, the problem is that even as these was recede, we face a large number of security challenges that continue to challenge our national security.

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