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Mrs. O’Reilly, thanks for that kind introduction. And thank you for inviting me here today.
It’s important to have these conversations, and this is a venue like no other.
This building could be called the national headquarters of free speech, and it’s an honor to have this opportunity to address the press and our nation.
And I want to start with a sincere thanks to all the members of the press. In fact, can all the members of the media stand and be recognized?
YOU, ladies and gentlemen, represent one of the foundational principles upon which our nation is built—freedom of expression.
The very first amendment to our Constitution, which all service members and civil servants swear to protect and defend, establishes the right to freedom of speech and of the press.
You are an absolutely critical element to any free society, any democracy, and you don’t always get credit for that, or the respect that your profession deserves.
And I’m not saying this in the hopes you’ll go easier on me during the Q&A—I know you’ll do your jobs to the best of your ability, just as I do mine.
It may seem odd or unnecessary to make such a point of this, but we have seen threats to our democracy, to our very institutions in recent years, so I believe it’s important to be very explicit in stating my beliefs.
The media, the free press are absolutely essential to our democracy in informing its citizens and holding its leaders accountable.
And, of course, I know this better than most since I was born in Cuba, a communist and autocratic nation like Russia and China, where members of press are more often than not persecuted. So thank you for what you do.
Now, I hope that everyone had a wonderful Presidents Day.
It is a holiday I cherish—and each year I try to take some time to reflect on, and learn a bit more about, the courageous and visionary leaders who established the democratic traditions of our nation.
And there is no individual in history whom I find more fascinating, or for whom I have greater regard, than George Washington.
Now there are some things about George Washington that every American knows: he was our nation’s first president, he was a soldier and a general…
We also know that he was in no way a perfect person—the chief example of this being the fact that he was a slave-owner.
Despite these very real faults, in his day, he was such an inspiring and influential leader that he could have been president for life, had he so chosen.
Yet he was humble and unpretentious and above all he believed in our American values of freedom, self-determination, and democracy.
But what many Americans do not fully appreciate is that though he was the commander in chief of the Continental Army, he was also our first naval strategist, making the most of our French ally’s ships to defeat the British at Yorktown and achieve our independence.
In November of 1781, in a letter to his friend, the Marquis de Lafayette, he declared that “the advantages of to America, & the honor & glory of it to the Allied Arms in these States, must depend absolutely up on the Naval force which is employed in these Seas,” and that, “as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”
In short, President Washington understood that America is indeed are a maritime nation.
From the beginning he knew the survival of the nation and it is economic prosperity, in fact its economic viability, depended on a navy that could secure the nation’s trade and defend its sovereignty on the seas against predatory, established powers and pirates alike.
Much has changed since the founding of our nation.
But some things remain as true today as they were two and half centuries ago—and in fact, the importance of naval power event predates our nation.
From the ancient empires of the Mediterranean to today, the ability to project power and protect trade routes at sea has been a defining characteristic of the world's most influential nations.
The United States emerged from World War II as the dominant naval power and since then, has underwritten the laws and rules that govern the oceans, for example ensuring that acts of piracy are the exception rather than the rule, as was the case in the past.
It is thanks to our presence in international waters that commerce has boomed in the last half-century all over the world—and with those increased levels of trade have come improved economic prospects, higher standards of living, and greater opportunities for greater numbers of people, not just in the United States, but in all nations that participate in free and open trade.
The U.S. Navy has guaranteed this freedom by ensuring the stability and security of sea lanes around the world, particularly in areas where piracy, terrorism, and other forms of illegal activity threaten the safe passage of goods and people.
Ocean shipping is an integral part of the supply chain for most industries, making it a backbone of global trade.
It is a vital component of sea commerce. More than 50,000 merchant ships move approximately 90% of the world's cargo each year—a crucial component of international trade.
And yes, that means 90% of what Americans order online or purchase in stores, unless it’s made in the United States, gets to them by sea.
It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on that—what would we do, how well would we get by, if we could no longer rely on 90% of our international imports?
The stability, the dependability of our maritime commerce are only possible thanks to the day-to-day activities of U.S. Sailors and Marines, who provide a visible and active presence at sea.
U.S. naval forces are an incredibly effective deterrent to would-be aggressors.
In short, the might of the U.S. Navy over the course of the last 70 years has made possible a true revolution in the way human beings live on this planet.
And not just one revolution, but two—I’m talking about the incredible shift in the way we communicate, especially since the advent of the internet.
The first transatlantic cable dates back to 1858; though this sounds like ancient technology, undersea cables continue to be a huge component of our modern world, connecting people, businesses, and governments around the globe.
These cables, which are laid on the ocean floor, enable the transmission of vast amounts of data at high speeds across vast distances, and are an essential component of the global communications network.
In fact, over 99% of all international data is transmitted via undersea cables.
And the need for undersea cables will only grow as more devices become connected to the internet and as data-intensive applications become more prevalent.
Yet, undersea cables are vulnerable to damage from a range of natural and human-made causes, including earthquakes, tsunamis, fishing trawlers, and even intentional damage.
The U.S. Navy plays a crucial role in protecting undersea cables. Our ability to monitor and secure these cables is just one of the many ways America and indeed the entire planet depend on us—sometimes without even realizing it.
So next time you come home to find that Amazon box by your door, next time you check Facebook or read an email—thank a Sailor! Thank a Marine!
Better yet, help us recruit a future Sailor or Marine to perform that critical mission!
Though we have maintained and upheld sea lanes and international rules and norms for over half a century, there is no guaranty that this will continue unless we are deliberate in our efforts to do so, and make the necessary investments now.
That is because we are being challenged by actors who seek to disrupt the world order.
It is no secret that the People’s Republic of China seeks to upend our dominance on the oceans across the globe.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy has added over one hundred combatants to its fleet – a naval buildup that is a key component of its increasingly aggressive military posture globally.
Today they have approximately 340 ships, and are moving towards a fleet of 440 ships by 2030.
What’s more, as stated in our National Security Strategy, the PRC has “both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance that objective.”
China’s disregard for the rules-based international order is particularly troubling in the maritime domain, from the Taiwan Straits to the high seas.
The values espoused by the Chinese Communist Party are incompatible with individual liberty, with democracy, and with respect for human rights.
This is about the future of humanity and of our planet.
We cannot allow the current free and open international system to be overturned.
I don’t want that for my grand-daughter. I don’t want it for any American, or for anybody, from any corner of the globe.
God forbid we should one day have to say: “If only we had done more.”
We must stand strong in the face of totalitarian regimes today; we must ensure our own forces are ready; we must expand and deepen our partnerships and alliances across the globe—and we are certainly not alone in our efforts to maintain the order and stability of our international system…
Almost every other nation has as much, if not more, to lose, if the current world order were to falter.
We need our partners and allies just as they need us, and we are all stronger together.
China is not the only challenge to a lawful and orderly international system.
On the one-year anniversary this week of Putin’s unconscionable invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s army has resumed its offensive across much of the theater.
We have watched in horror the images of cities bombed, of civilians targeted, and we’ve watched in admiration the steadfast resilience of the Ukrainian people.
But we’ve done more than just watch. At the very highest levels of our government, we have seen a commitment to the Ukrainian people.
Over the weekend, while President Biden visited Kyiv, Vice President Harris declared Putin is committing Crimes against Humanity in his invasion of Ukraine.
In 2022, the Biden Administration has directed nearly $50 billion in assistance to Ukraine.
As part of that, the Department of the Navy coordinated the identification, adjudication, and delivery of critical systems, weapons platforms, munitions and support equipment to address critical Ukrainian needs.
Our forward presence in the Mediterranean, first the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, and now the George H. W. Bush Carrier Strike Group, serve as a regional reminder of our tremendous military might.
Let me be very clear: As stated by the President and Secretary of Defense, we will continue to support our partners in Ukraine—I have full trust in our ability to ramp up production, just as we have in the past.
The Defense Industrial Base has never let the American people down, and I don’t believe it’s about to start now.
Moscow has not abated its efforts to impose its dominion over large swaths of the Black, Baltic, and Arctic Seas, in attempts to intimidate other countries and prevent them from exercising their rights to free passage.
That is why six of seven of NATO’s priority operating regions are maritime-focused, driving adoption of its first maritime strategy.
I hope I have convinced you of the absolute necessity, today more than ever, of the United States of America maintaining a Navy that is powerful enough to prevail against any challengers.
I want to be very clear on this topic as well.
Only a few weeks ago, it’s fair to say that most Americans were not sufficiently aware of the threat posed by the PRC.
Because of the incursion of a Chinese balloon into our air space, most Americans’ alarm bells have now gone off.
Americans are rightly alarmed that a PRC Balloon violated our sovereign air space. What Americans should also know is that PRC consistently attempts to violate the maritime sovereignty and economic well-being of other nations including our allies and trading partners in South China Sea and elsewhere.
Your Navy and Marine Corps team is helping our allies and partners stand up to PRC coercion in their Exclusive Economic Zones.
We must, as a nation, continue to adopt a balanced, rational approach to the enduring challenges we face.
I have great faith in our President’s and our national leaders’ abilities to find peaceful solutions to the enduring challenges we face.
I also give credit to the many Department of Defense personnel and State Department Foreign Service Officers diligently working overseas.
They are continuously engaging in dialogue, negotiations, and meeting with our partners and allies as well as with our potential adversaries to find solutions that involve no loss of life – no sacrifice of our precious sons and daughters.
But we must always be prepared for any contingency our nation may face.
And our Navy and Marine Corps team must always be prepared.
And since taking office in August of 2021, I can proudly say that the Commandant, CNO, and I have worked together to ensure remains the most capable and lethal maritime force in the world.
Last June, our shipbuilders laid the keel for the first of a new Columbia class of nuclear ballistic submarines that will underwrite the nation’s nuclear deterrent all the way to the year 2080.
And the second Columbia-class ship, USS Wisconsin, has begun pre-construction activities.
Marine aviation continues to build capability and capacity in the image of the future force.
Just over a month ago, we reactivated Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 153. This squadron provides both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aerial refueling capabilities and will significantly increase the reach and sustainment capabilities of Marines in the Pacific theater.
And the operational-test-and-evaluation squadron VMX-1 continues to push the boundaries of heavy-lift operations: just last month, they successfully lifted an F-35C strike fighter.
That is a significant capability, especially when it comes to aircraft-and-personnel-recovery missions.
Last month, the Marine Corps in close coordination with our Japanese allies, activated a based in Guam. Paving the way for 5,000 Marines to have a permanent presence in the 2nd Island Chain, to counter Chinese aggression.
We are also making great progress on the unmanned aircraft front. Early in my tenure, we established a new, first-of-its-kind task force in the Middle East at our naval base in Bahrain, called Task Force 59.
Task Force 59 is rapidly integrating unmanned systems and artificial intelligence into maritime operations in the Fifth Fleet area of operations, and we will soon expand that capability to other regions of the world.
We are making investments in our next generation of guided missile destroyers, the DDG(X) program, as well as the next-generation air dominance, or NGAD, jets, which will eventually replace our Super Hornets; and finally the SSN(X), our next generation of nuclear attack submarines.
Another area of continued investment is in the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program, known as SIOP, is modernizing our four aging public shipyards by optimizing facilities and infrastructure as well as increasing dry dock capacity and capability.
If there’s one thing I hope Americans take away from what I’ve said today it’s this: Sailors and Marines are working hard every day on your behalf—to maintain our freedom and our way of life; what they do may not always be visible to us everyday but it is critical to every aspect of our lives.
Be protective of your Navy and Marine Corps. Be proud of them.
We are strong. We are moving with urgency.
And what we need most is your support. The support of the American people and our Allies and partners.
We are an all-volunteer force—we have been for 50 years. We need the continued support of the American people as much as we ever have. We are the American people.
We need your support, through your elected leaders, we need your support through your words, and we need your support through your actions.
We need your talent, we need your ideas, and we need your enthusiasm. Perhaps most of all, we need your continued faith in American values.
We need Americans from every sector of society, of every race and ethnicity, of every religious belief, every sexual orientation and gender identity—everyone is welcome in our Department of the Navy.
What matters most is the American people’s willingness to do their part in the greatest experiment humankind has ever embarked upon, a nation formed on an idea, on a hope…
A nation in constant dialogue about what it’s getting right and what it needs to fix, in continuous struggle to correct course, to be better than it was yesterday, for all of its citizens, and for all the world.
Finally, in closing, I wish to extend our collective thanks to President Jimmy Carter, who has led an extraordinary life, a life of service admired around the world.
That service began 80 years ago as a midshipman at the US Naval Academy. Last Friday, I had the honor to name a building at USNA in his honor.
He is now standing his final watch.
We wish him Fair Winds and Following Seas on the next phase of his great journey.
May God Bless Jimmy, Rosalynn, and the entire Carter family.
And now, I’ll take your questions.
Carlos Del Toro
21 February 2023
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