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Good morning, everyone! It is wonderful to be with you all here at the Naval War College in beautiful Newport, Rhode Island for the 25th International Seapower Symposium.
First and foremost, I would like to thank each and every one of you, your spouses, and your staffs for traveling from across the globe to be here with us this week. We are truly humbled by your presence, and we feel fortunate that we are able to gather in-person in greater numbers again.
As Secretary of the Navy, I made enhancing strategic partnerships one of the three enduring priorities that guide our naval services in everything that we do. I can think of no event that offers a better opportunity to strengthen our bonds as maritime nations than the International Seapower Symposium.
I would also like to thank Rear Admiral Peter Garvin and the staff here at Naval War College for opening their doors to host us this week. As the only Secretary of the Navy to be a graduate Naval War College and as a proud alum, I appreciate every opportunity to come back here to this beautiful campus. And to those of you gathered with us today who are fellow alumni—welcome home!
Ambassador Kennedy, ma’am, it is wonderful to see you again. Thank you for traveling from Australia to be here with us, and for your continued leadership as one of our nation’s senior representatives in the Indo-Pacific region.
Finally, Admiral Franchetti, thank you for inviting me to participate in this year’s International Seapower Symposium—your first as the leader of our Navy.
I know several of you in the audience already have a relationship with Admiral Franchetti from her time as either the Sixth Fleet Commander and the Commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO in Europe, Commander of US Naval Forces Korea, the Director of Strategy, Plans, and Policy on the Joint Staff, or most recently as our Vice Chief of Naval Operations.
This week is indeed an opportunity for you to continue to build your relationships with Admiral Franchetti, as well as with one another. As maritime nations, it is imperative that we come together to address the common challenges that we collectively face.
As Admiral Franchetti stated moments ago, you have no more trusted friend than the United States Navy. However, actions speak louder than words, and our Fleet is deployed around the world, working hard every day—through port visits, through exercises, through training exchanges, through leadership engagements at all levels—to earn your trust.
Allow me to highlight a few examples of how we have engaged with you since the beginning of this year, and how we are endeavoring to not only earn and reinforce your trust in us, but to promote unity and interoperability between our nations in every region around the globe.
In Africa, our Navy team is engaged every day with our partners to help combat a wide range of maritime challenges, ranging from piracy and illicit smuggling to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Exercises like Cutlass Express 2023 and Obangame Express 2023 provided our navies with an incredible opportunity to train alongside one another in addressing these issues, and I appreciated your feedback on the importance of these exercises when we gathered in Cabo Verde at the African Maritime Forces Summit back in March.
Beyond the maritime domain, we are actively supporting the Africa Malaria Task Force. At the task force’s meeting in July, members of the US Naval Forces Europe-Africa Surgeon General’s team joined over 70 representatives from 15 nations, non-governmental organizations, and non-profit organizations to discuss how we can better combat the health threat posed by this mosquito-borne parasite.
We are committed to working alongside you to improve the lives of millions of Africans affected by malaria across the continent, as we recognize that health security is a key component to national security.
However, many of these challenges are not unique to Africa. In Central and South America, we are dedicated to working with our partners to address many of the same key issues—illicit maritime activity, including narcotics and human trafficking, as well as IUU fishing—that threaten our regional economic security.
During exercise UNITAS 64 in July, 20 nations from throughout the region gathered in Colombia to discuss those issues, and we increased our interoperability through training and rehearsing operations critical to enforcing security throughout our respective exclusive economic zones.
I was fortunate enough to attend the opening days of UNITAS, and witnessed first-hand the excitement and passion our Sailors had for the opportunity to sail alongside our partners and increase their own skills.
Above all, UNITAS allowed our Sailors to build rapport and trust amongst each other.
Trust, proficiency, and interoperability are core tenets of our partnerships as we work together to advance our common interests in the Western Hemisphere, maintaining the stability and security necessary for economic prosperity.
UNITAS also allowed us to showcase how unmanned systems, operating at, above, and below the sea, are force multipliers in the practice of maritime domain awareness. Our team at US Fourth Fleet, led by Rear Admiral James Aiken, will continue to work with our partners across Central and South America to see how we can best integrate these unmanned platforms into our respective fleets, allowing us to know who is operating in our shared waters and what their intent is.
This effort builds upon the successes we have realized in the Middle East through US Fifth Fleet’s unmanned effort—Task Force 59—led by Vice Admiral Brad Cooper.
With the support of many of you, we have been able to field a hybrid fleet across the Middle East region, from the Arabian Gulf to the Red Sea.
Just as in the Caribbean, we envision unmanned systems supporting us, our allies, and our partners throughout the region in our commitment to ensuring the free flow or maritime commerce—even as other nations endeavor to hinder it.
Through the Combined Maritime Forces—a 38-nation multi-national partnership—we are working together to promote security, stability, and prosperity across approximately 3.2 million square miles of international waters, which encompass some of the world’s most important shipping lanes.
As recent events have shown, Iran is willing to take actions that run counter to these ideals of stability and prosperity we are working together to promote. Through their harassment and seizure of merchant ships in international waters, Iran is disrupting the free flow of trade throughout the Middle East, negatively impacting our global economy.
Last month, we deployed over 3,000 Sailors and Marines to the region as part of a larger effort to deter —and if called upon, respond to—future acts of aggression against commercial shipping by Iran near the Strait of Hormuz.
We are committed to keeping these vital sea lanes of communication open so that we remain unencumbered in our ability to trade with one another.
Securing shipping lanes critical to the flow of international commerce is important not only in the Middle East, but in Europe as well.
In concert with our partners and allies, we endeavor to keep the seas open for the free flow of commerce—including grain vital to our world’s food stability.
From longstanding exercises like BALTIC OPERATIONS 2023 to NEPTUNE STRIKE 2023, we are sailing alongside our allies and partners in international waters throughout the Europe, building upon our interoperability while deterring further Russian aggression.
We are committed to working with you to support our Ukrainian partners as they counter Russia’s illegal and unprovoked violation of their territorial and national sovereignty.
As President Biden expressed last month during his address to mark Ukraine’s independence day, “The United States will continue our work, together with partners all around the world, to support Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against Russia’s aggression, to uphold the foundational principles of the UN Charter, and to help the Ukrainian people build the secure, prosperous, and independent future they deserve.”
I would like to thank those nations that continue to stand with and support Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s attacks.
This prosperous future we seek in Europe is no different from what we are working towards in the Indo-Pacific, alongside our allies and partners.
From the Oceania Maritime Security Initiative, Pacific Partnership 2023, and exercise TALISMAN SABRE 23 in July, our naval services are operating side-by-side across this region.
We are committed to supporting you as you endeavor to secure your exclusive economic zones against encroachment from illicit maritime activity, including IUU fishing, and in deterring conflict that could endanger the world’s economy and shipping that passes though the region.
Economic security is national security, and national security is indeed economic security.
Now, the examples I just highlighted are but a small snapshot of the hundreds of exercises, port visits, task forces, leadership summits, and one-on-one meetings we’ve had with one another in this year so far, in every region across the entire globe.
Admiral Franchetti and her team have crafted an incredible program of events for this week that builds upon the momentum gained from our prior engagements as we continue to think about how to address challenges in the maritime domain—and how we can preserve the rules-based system of international order that has governed an era of relative international stability and prosperity over the last 80 years.
This week’s panels include topics such as food, energy, seabed infrastructure, and commerce; artificial intelligence and unmanned technology; IUU maritime activity; and how we can better develop, empower, and retain Sailors in our respective naval services.
You will also have an opportunity to participate in an unmanned technology demonstration, providing a forum to build upon the panel discussion as we consider how we can all leverage game-changing technologies to advance our navies’ capabilities at, above, and below the sea.
However, it is important to recognize that the dialogues we’ll have this week don’t end Friday at the closing ceremony.
Admiral Franchetti, myself, and our indeed our entire Department are excited to continue engaging with each and every one of you long after we leave Newport.
Future events already in the works include exercise Rim of the Pacific 2024—the world’s largest maritime exercise; International Seapower Symposium 26 in 2025; and planning for our Navy’s 250th birthday—also in 2025—is underway.
And I am especially excited to share with all of you that, in 2026, we are planning to host an international naval review.
Our vision for this event, as part of a larger celebration of the United States of America’s 250th birthday, is to invite you—our fellow, like-minded maritime nations—to our shores in celebration of 250 years of our naval and national heritage—something each and every nation represented here today has had a real and positive impact on.
Our successes are not ours alone, and our nation has flourished because of our many international partnerships—friendships—that we share with you. Those friendships are built on decades—and in some cases, centuries—of trust and collaboration.
As a maritime nation, we are committed to maintaining a strong Fleet and Force that is capable of ensuring the free access to seas not just for ourselves, but for our allies and partners.
Despite whatever challenges we may face as a nation, those who would seek to up-end the international rules-based order should never question our commitment to defending democratic principles and freedom around the globe, especially in the maritime domain.
It is in our collective interest to work together in defense of our shared ideals as we endeavor to make our world a better place for our children, and our grandchildren.
Again, it is a true pleasure and honor to be with you all here in Newport, and I look forward to speaking with and listening to each and every one of you as we discuss how we can preserve a maritime commons that is free and open for all to use for the benefit of every nation around the globe.
May God continue to bless our nations, our fleets, and our Sailors and their families.
Carlos Del Toro
20 September 2023
22 September 2023
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