It’s an honor to be here today. On behalf of the people of the United States, I congratulate you on your selection to this important institution, and thank you for your service.
Our nations enjoy a strong relationship, with a long history of cooperation between our military forces, and I’m grateful for your time and interest today.
Yesterday, I visited the North Africa American Cemetery, the final resting place of 2,841 young Americans whose sacrifices helped open the door for the allied victory in World War II.
It’s been 75 years since the end of that war, but I know the legacy and the memory of the North Africa Campaign persist to this day.
The American people remember with grateful admiration the many brave Tunisians, civilian and military, who fought and died alongside our troops, so others might have freedom and peace.
During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln was asked to dedicate a military cemetery on the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In his famous address, he said:
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
The same could be said of all of the honored dead - Tunisian, American and allied - who fell here in World War II.
So how can we, the living, carry on their unfinished work?
Partnership. Cooperation. Communication.
One of the foundational pillars of our National Defense Strategy is to cultivate a robust constellation of allies and partners.
And Tunisia is a critical star in that constellation.
As Undersecretary of the Navy I’m committed to building a true partnership between our forces.
When I was the Assistant Secretary of Manpower and Reserve Affairs I saw first-hand how important it is for our people to train, operate and fully integrate with our critical allies.
And from my time as an officer in the United States Navy I know how important it is to listen and communicate with our partners on the ground. We’re not going to land and say, “follow me”.
We’re looking to work alongside you, leveraging our different experiences and capabilities to uphold the rules-based international order that benefits us all.
Because that order needs protecting. Seventy percent of the world is covered by water and ninety percent of all goods produced travel via water. Hence, freedom of navigation, freedom of commerce, freedom of communication – these are basic pillars on which democratic societies can grow and flourish, to the benefit of all.
Unfortunately, China and Russia have chosen, against their own best interests and the interests of all other nations, to go in the opposite direction.
In the past few years, both of these aspirational great powers have amassed clear public records of coercion, influence operations, and military actions that threaten the sovereignty of all other nations, and the regional stability required for a civil society.
Over the past 15 years, we've been witnessing a re-emergence of Great Power Competition and a steady rise of malign influence across Africa and Europe through state and non-state actors.
We define Great Power Competition as a geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order.
Our competitors seek to expand the reaches of their regimes, and are intent on reordering the global balance of power in their favor.
They are trying to buy their influence and presence throughout the world.
Their methods threaten stability, violate the rule of law, trample on the autonomy of our partners, and challenge our way of life.
President John F. Kennedy – a former US Navy Officer – warned “Those who sought power by riding the tiger ended up inside.”
He was talking about the Soviet Union at the time, but the same could be said for China and Russia today.
Through aggressive military presence, predatory loans, and extortionate activities, these powers are chipping away at the sovereignty of the nations they coerce into partnering with them. And they are exporting their brand of repression around the world.
You don’t have to look any farther than Djibouti where China has built a deep water port. This is a model they will use around the world.
We continue to see Russian submarine deployments in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, as well as deployment of coastal defense cruise missiles in Kaliningrad, Tartus, and Crimea, all designed to deny access and freedom of maneuver.
Russian interests in Syria have brought a number of deployments to the Eastern Mediterranean, and they are increasingly executing more multi-domain training events. Russians are more active in this region now than they have been since the Cold War.
Both China and Russia are increasing the size of their navies. China’s growth in the maritime fleet since 1999 has been staggering.
It is also important to note that the Chinese Navy is increasingly present in the region, operating routinely in the Mediterranean with ship visits in Europe and North Africa.
They conducted a combined exercise with Russia in the Baltic Sea, and aim to dominate the economic environment in many countries through its Belt and Road Strategy.
They have shown interest in the Arctic and are fully invested across Africa. China's lack of transparency in the growth of their Navy and expansion of its operations should concern us all.
Russia has over 45 Ice Breakers operating in the High North with more to follow. China wants a presence in the region too.
Meanwhile, violent extremists present a persistent threat to our collective security on land and in the maritime domain, with the potential to impact freedom of maneuver and maritime commerce.
These groups seek to establish themselves in Libya and Syria, expand into new safe havens, and plan attacks against free nations. Their activities are funded in part by drug smuggling and human trafficking in the maritime domain.
We appreciate all that you do on the front lines of this battle, and are committed to working with you for a secure, stable maritime environment.
The graduates of this institution are making a difference in every domain, countering illegal smuggling networks, ensuring safety of life at sea, and ensuring regional security and stability.
Tunisian officers are improving regional cooperation and interoperability, participating in combined training exercises, increasing our common proficiency in Search and Rescue, Vessel Boarding, ship maneuver tactics, and Air Defense.
They are helping us maintain Maritime Domain Awareness in the Mediterranean, providing a real-time operational information to
help military and civilian commanders from both of our nations make the right call, informed by the whole picture.
And they are participating in international operations and exercises that extend well beyond the Mediterranean, such as Operation NANOOK in the Eastern Arctic Sea.
These operations are critical, not only to the people of our nations but to entire global community. Maritime security and freedom of navigation are paramount to democratic and economic growth for all nations. And we appreciate all that the military personnel of Tunisia do to safeguarding the seas.
Many of you have been out there leading in these operations and exercises, and we look forward to your leadership as you move forward in your career.
Throughout my life I’ve found that the core lessons of military service apply in all aspects of life. We need strong, principled leaders in every government, every community, every business, as well as every level of the military.
The great leaders of our time have come from many different countries and many different walks of life.
But they all share the proven “C” factors that we emphasize in military life, and sorely need in the civilian world as well:
Character. Courage. Competence. Conviction. Commitment.
Effective leader knows how to lead from the front.
They take care of their people.
They communicate up and down the organizational ladder.
They master the details of operations.
They understand the situation before making a key decision.
They expect, no demand excellence from their team.
They possess the will to persevere in extreme difficulty.
And they never stop learning. I’m 71 years old and I’m still learning every day.
Your presence here declares that you understand some or all of these factors. You would not be here if you did not possess the drive, the creativity and intellectual skills to tackle the world’s most vexing challenges.
So use it. Remember the C factors. And be a leader.
Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished so far, and thank you for all you do to protect freedom and prosperity in the region and around the world. It’s an honor to serve at your side.
The Honorable Gregory J. Slavonic
12 November 2020
04 December 2020
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