Thank you, ladies and gentlemen and good evening. As you know, tonight’s dinner celebrates the leadership and accomplishments of honorees in the field of business, politics, the arts and our collective security. Collectively, their work serves to remind us all of the transformative effect individual leaders can make in building a safer, more prosperous and freer world. But tonight we celebrate more than the accomplishment of any one individual, however impressive they may be.

We celebrate the idea of a united Europe, whole and free, under the collective leadership of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as the achievement of turning that dream into the reality that it is today. Ladies and gentlemen, 2014 marks a year of powerful and evocative anniversaries of Europe’s long road towards peace, prosperity and freedom.

This July Europe will commemorate and mourn the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, a collective failure of leadership of historic proportions that brought about a devastating conflict. And the failure of a peace agreement that would be forged at Versailles in France. The horrors of World War II and World War I fostered a generation of leaders in the United States, in Canada and Europe who were inspired by the idea of the Europe that we see today.

Regardless of current tensions surrounding the Ukraine, and it may not be a bad thing to be reminded of the costs it took to achieve the Europe that we celebrate this evening. Courageous leaders built the foundation of that vision by forming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Alliance in 1949 and the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950.

But the vision for Europe was to be thwarted until 1989, the year the famous wall came down, and along with it the iron curtain. It has now been 25 years since those historic events, events which were brought to reality by visionary leadership on both sides, which ensured that the vision of Europe could end without violence. The new era, full of hope and optimism offered not only a chance to reunify Germany, but also to reunify Europe in a common Euro Atlantic home.

A home, by the way, into which the welcome mat was extended to Russia as well. NATO would lead the way in helping to achieve that vision, forging a new partnership with Russia, while welcoming former adversaries as allies. The European Union would follow shortly thereafter in reinforcing the economic bonds of the new European framework. Fifteen years, ago Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary entered NATO.

Ten years ago, seven more countries from Central and Eastern Europe also entered NATO. That same year, the E.U. conducted its big bang round of enlargement, integrating ten Central, Southern and Eastern European countries in its ranks. And five years ago NATO completed its most recent round of enlargement aimed at anchoring the Western Balkans in the transatlantic community.

Throughout this period, both NATO and the u– E.U. extended the hand of partnership to Russia. Eager for its leaders to claim their nation’s rightful place within the common vision. Unfortunately, we are today faced with a possibility that Russia may choose a different path. And the watching world is once again faced with disturbing memories of a past that all had hoped was buried in the pages of history.

Yesterday and earlier today, the Atlantic Council played an important role in bringing together Vice President Biden, the Secretary of State John Kerry, President Barroso, NATO leaders, ministers from across Europe, and former architects of the Euro Atlantic Land Mass Transformation to not only discuss lessons of the past, but to help forge a renewed strategy for Europe’s future. And tonight’s event (NOISE) is the capstone to this important conference.

It allows us to commemorate together the work of the E.U. and NATO in continuing to build a united Europe, whole and free. But this special tribute to these two great institutions is tonight also a call for action to not take for granted the progress of the past. New challenges in Europe cannot relieve us of our obligations to achieve a successful transition for NATO in far off places such as Afghanistan.

That the elections in Afghanistan are going as well as they could’ve been hoped for, is due in no small part to the courage of the Afghan people and the security provided by their NATO trained army and NATO’s relentless commitment to that country. After all, despite the challenges of the economic crisis, all 28 NATO members made meaningful contributions to Afghans’ security. It is more than fitting that our military awardee this evening, General Joe Dunford, will accept the w– award on behalf of all the men and women under his command in ISAF. NATO and the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers in Europe have been on the ground in Afghanistan since 2004.

And General Phil Breedlove, United States Air Force, our seventeenth Supreme Allied Commander, has the responsibility of implementing the will of the alliance in these difficult times in Afghanistan, while all the while focusing on current events in Europe. General Breedlove is with us this evening. And I am very proud to introduce the man who still, in my view, holds the coolest title in the military, the Supreme Allied Commander, (LAUGH) Europe. (APPLAUSE)

Good evening. I’m honored to be here tonight, amongst a lot of people who I have called hero, who I’ve looked up to. Some who have mentored me, and some who have made marks on my forehead. (LAUGH) It is good to be amongst you. Congratulations to all those who are honored tonight. And thank you to the Atlantic Council for inviting me to share a few short remarks on our contributions over the last 12 years. And also highlight the evolving security environment that NATO confronts today in Europe and beyond.

Let me start by highlighting the accomplishments of our NATO soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines over the last 12 years of sacrifice in Afghanistan. A testament to what they have accomplished. It was demonstrated to the world on the 5th of April, with the successful presidential elections. In 2001, this event would have been unthinkable.

As we work to transition our mission from ISAF to Resolute Support, I can only say thank you to those who gave their life’s blood to make that happen. And will be forever humbled to have served alongside these great people. (APPLAUSE) We get a paper that sticks together because it’s a little bit hot in here. (LAUGH) See if we can get it open. So today, we face a new paradigm in Europe. Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine is the most serious crisis in Europe since the end of the Cold War.

The international community and NATO are responding to the crisis and the challenges of this new security environment. Our alliance, I think now, as highlighted, is as important as it has ever been. And our common security forged through NATO is fundamental to our ability to address the challenges that we see in the twenty-first century.

NATO’s efforts over the past weeks have been the result of deliberate decisions designed to increase our situational awareness and assure our allies in the region. NATO’s military actions are defensive, balanced, measured and clear. They are designed to both reassure our allies and signal our commitment to all the articles of the Washington Treaty.

In other words, NATO has done what it was designed to do. Provide mutual defense of its members and ensure the security of the alliance. We are still in the early days of this new security environment. In the near term, I’m concerned about the potential of increased instability caused by these Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine.

Fabrications, information warfare, emotional rhetoric, forcers pos– postured along the Ukraine border, and the capability for rapid military movement all combine to make the potential of the crisis expanding into Eastern Ukraine a real possibility. We need to stay focused on the situation and be ready to do– to appropriately do– respond to whatever path Russia decides to take. Over the long term, NATO must adapt to Russia’s new model of using force to achieve its state objectives. This will require strategic adaptation to meet the demands of the twenty-first century in deterrence and assurance.

In order to address these changes to the environment, we have to ask ourselves some pretty tough questions. Questions that we didn’t think we would have to face over the last ten years. Is our alliance agile and flexible enough to meet the challenge? Do our exercises and readiness measures need to go beyond current initiatives? Are our forces positioned correctly? And more importantly, are they responsive enough to address the new challenges?

These’ll be questions that we’ll have to face as we go into the NATO summit. In conclusion, the Ukraine crisis tests the post-Cold War security formula for Europe. A formula that has been stabilizing and constructive for all European nations, including Russia. It is in Russia’s and the world’s best interests for Russian interference in Ukraine, militarily, politically, and economically to cease.

Ukraine should be allowed to develop as a country without interference and without acts of destabilization. NATO’s actions are assuring in our signal of resolve. And the alliance is starting a process of strategic adaptation to meet the realities that we face from this new Russia. The good news to share is that, because of our efforts in ISAF, we have honed our interoperability to a new level that would have been unimaginable, I think, before 9/11.

It is from this platform that we will continue to advance and grow. And our alliance will remain the strongest in the world. That is another reason why honoring the contributions of ISAF tonight is so appropriate. I can think of no better person to introduce our ISAF commander, General Joe Dunford, than the man that will follow me next, General Colin Powell.

He is one of my personal heroes, a sentiment I share with millions of people across our globe. His service to our nation is unmatched. And he will be forever acknowledged as one of our greatest soldiers and greatest statesmen. Please join me in welcoming General Colin Powell.

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