Defense secretary hails US alliances amid Trump criticism

Defense secretary hails US alliances amid Trump criticism
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Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday at a think tank event he would not wade into 2016 presidential politics, but spoke at length about the importance of U.S. alliances that presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War Barr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe MORE has called into question. 

Speaking at an event hosted by the Center for a New America Security, Carter began his remarks by saying he wouldn't actually comment on the elections. 

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"And the reason for that is, the United States has a longstanding practice, tradition and principle that our department, our military, and our security leaders stand apart from the electoral process," he said. "So I’m extremely careful not to comment on the election ... except to simply say that our department will run a smooth and orderly transition, as it did in 2008." 

However, Carter emphasized in his speech the importance of the U.S.'s alliances around the world, some of which Trump has called into question.  

The businessman has argued that the U.S. "cannot afford to police the entire world" and that if U.S. allies "don't take care of us properly ... they're gonna have to defend themselves."  

Carter called the U.S.'s network of allies and partners a "critical ingredient to U.S. strength and leadership." 

"Together, America’s unrivaled military strength and that network of friends and allies — also unrivaled — have formed the bedrock of global security for decades," Carter said. "It reflects an important fact: the United States has all the friends around the world, and our antagonists have few or none." 

"That’s no accident," he added. "We have the friends because our network has long been a principled one, based on the standards and ideals the United States and these other nations have collectively promoted and upheld for decades." 

While Trump has disparaged allies for not paying their fair share for their own protection, Carter said the U.S.'s security alliances were "inclusive and voluntary, since any nation and any military — no matter its capability, budget or experience — can contribute." 

Carter detailed a number of U.S. security initiatives in the Asia-Pacific with allies Japan, Australia, South Korea and the Philippines. He also discussed the growing military relationships with India, Vietnam and Singapore. 

The network does not exclude China, Carter said, although he called its behavior in the South China Sea destabilizing. 

In the Middle East, Carter said the U.S. would uphold "our ironclad commitments to our regional friends and allies, especially Israel."  

The U.S. is also working with coalition partners to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), he said. He said the Pentagon is working to develop a transregional, networked approach to counterterrorism, reliant on nodes located in Afghanistan, the Levant, East Africa and Southern Europe. 

In Europe, Carter defended NATO — which has come under attack by Trump — as the "quintessential example of nations working together ... to respond to security challenges" for over 67 years. 

"The Defense Department is helping NATO adapt and network so it can meet and overcome this era’s challenges to the interests and values of this family of nations," he said. 

Carter listed a number of steps the U.S. has been undertaking to shore up security in Europe, including maintaining two brigades there, as well as one rotational armored brigade and one planned battalion in Eastern Europe. 

There was one point of agreement between Carter and Trump: that NATO members should contribute more spending to their own defense. 

"The United States and the Defense Department are already doing more than our fair share," Carter said. "We’re encouraging our fellow allies to do more as well." 

"We’ve seen some progress from NATO allies on spending ... but there’s still more to do," he added. 

"NATO will soon play a more direct role as an alliance in the counter-ISIL campaign — first by contributing AWACS and conducting training and defense capacity building for Iraq inside Iraq rather than in Jordan," he said, using the administration's preferred acronym for ISIS. "Hopefully that will be the start of more to come." 

"In conclusion, all of this networking demonstrates that whether in Europe, around the Middle East, or across the Asia-Pacific, these inclusive, principled security networks will continue to contribute to national, regional and global security and help uphold the principled international order," he said.