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March 20, 2012

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) delivered the following remarks at the Atlantic Council event today in Washington, D.C., on the 2012 NATO summit:

“Thank you, Senator Shaheen, for your remarks and for your generous words.

“Let me also thank Damon Wilson and the Atlantic Council for convening this event – and for their consistent and excellent leadership on transatlantic issues.

“I am painfully aware that I am now the only person standing between all of you and the wisdom of my two friends, Secretary Albright and Senator Warner. If ever there were an incentive to be short and to the point, this is it. So I will be brief.

“We are all familiar with what is on the agenda for the Chicago Summit. The concept of Smart Defense will be a focal point, as it should be. As we have seen in Libya and Afghanistan, it is essential for NATO countries to make intelligent defense investments that foster interoperability and complementary capabilities. But what Smart Defense cannot become, and here I would echo Senator Shaheen’s comments, is an excuse for our NATO allies to cut their defense budgets even further. Frankly, it should not be an excuse for America to do the same.

“Missile defense will also be on the agenda, and I know many are still holding out hope for an agreement on missile defense cooperation with Russia. I am going to go out on a limb and predict that such an agreement is not going to happen. Not when Russian President Medvedev is insisting that the Russian military develop plans and capabilities to attack U.S. and NATO missile defense systems in Europe, as he reiterated just yesterday. The best NATO can do under these circumstances is push forward with our plans to fund and field all four phases of the Phased Adaptive Approach, because the ballistic missile threat from Iran is only growing.

“But perhaps the most important item on the agenda in Chicago is Afghanistan. Though much of the news over the past month has been discouraging, it does not change the national security interests that are stake in Afghanistan for all NATO countries. Nor does it mean the war is lost. It is not. And one of the most impactful achievements that could come out of the Chicago Summit is the completion of a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan.

“This agreement could begin turning America and NATO’s talk of a long-term political, economic, and military commitment to Afghanistan into a tangible reality. It could make clear to our friends and allies, both in Afghanistan and in the region, that the United States will remain a fact on the ground in Afghanistan well beyond 2014 – that we will continue our assistance to the Afghan Security Forces, empowering them with intelligence and support from our Special Operations Forces. It could enable us to continue taking the fight to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, thereby ensuring that those groups can never again pose a military threat to Afghanistan, our allies, and us. This agreement could also serve as a framework for our NATO allies to make long-term commitments of their own to Afghanistan.

“By concluding a strong Strategic Partnership Agreement in Chicago, we could change the narrative of NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan – from one of looming international abandonment to one of enduring international commitment. This is an enormous opportunity – one that we cannot afford to miss.

“All of this will be on the agenda in Chicago. But unfortunately, there are a couple of items that will not be on the agenda. One of those is NATO expansion. We hear it said that this will not be an expansion summit. That is regrettable. And it makes it all the more important for the alliance to ensure that we maintain our policy of keeping the door open to those countries who desire membership in NATO, and who are working hard to meet the criteria for membership.

“This applies first and foremost to Montenegro, which has made tremendous progress on reform. Macedonia should not have been blocked from membership in 2008, though it must maintain its momentum on reform now and in the future. If Bosnia can truly form a unified country and government, the door should be open for them as well. And of course, there is Georgia – which has every right to its own secure, democratic future as any other country in Europe. We must make it clear to all of these countries, and any other country in Europe that wants to be a part of NATO and can meet the criteria, that the path to membership is open to them.

“There is one additional item that I suspect will not be on the agenda in Chicago, and that is Syria. All of you know what is unfolding in Syria – the more than 8,000 lives that have been lost, the regime’s use of tanks and artillery to indiscriminately shell civilian populations, the detentions and torture and rapes and murder. This is some of the worst state-sponsored violence since the Balkans. And yet, the Secretary-General of NATO continues to insist publicly that NATO should play no role whatsoever in helping to stop the killing. The Supreme Allied Commander testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that NATO has not done any contingency planning at all for Syria – none. Is it now the policy of NATO that we will stand by as rulers kill their people by the thousands, and our alliance won’t even discuss what we might do to help stop them? This is shameful. It is shameful. It only gives Assad and his forces a green light for greater brutality. 

“I want to conclude by reading what President Clinton had to say about a similar slaughter in the Balkans during the 1990s, and I quote:

‘There are times and places where our leadership can mean the difference between peace and war, and where we can defend our fundamental values as a people and serve our most basic, strategic interests. [T]here are still times when America and America alone can and should make the difference for peace.’

“The same is true of NATO, and shame on us, and shame on the alliance, if we neglect our responsibilities to support brave peoples who are struggling and dying in an unfair fight for the same values that are at the heart of our alliance.”

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