(As prepared for delivery – June 29, 2017)
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for having me here.
I would like to begin by offering thanks to Admiral Harris — thank you for your terrific remarks and your leadership in this critical Alliance — it’s hard for a diplomat to follow you at the podium at an event like this, and you really haven’t made that any easier for me! I would especially like to express my gratitude to all the Sailors and Marines of the USS Bonhomme Richard. Thank you for hosting us today. Minister Fletcher, and all other distinguished guests joining us today – there’s honestly too many of you to mention – welcome and thank you for being here.
In my role here in Australia, I engage with a myriad of groups. I’ve travelled the country — from Cardwell to Perth — and met with city councils, schools, universities, small business incubators, chambers of commerce, think tanks, you name it. And with each audience, I speak about the value of our Alliance. I speak about how important our strategic partnership is because it helps to strengthen and enhance our interoperability. I try to get across to Australians — and often Americans too — what makes our Alliance with Australia so unlike anything you would find anywhere else. Diplomats, public servants, political officials – we speak about the “enduring nature” of the Alliance – we talk and talk and talk about it. Sometimes we even tweet about it. But everyone here gets that the Alliance is more than just a turn of phrase. We understand that because we are here, about to start one of the most concrete demonstrations of the Alliance — perhaps the most concrete demonstration of it — our biannual exercise Talisman Saber.
During this exercise, we’ll see Australian Joint Tactical Air Controllers — members of the Australian RAAF — controlling US aircraft to including dropping live ordinance on simulated targets. We will see a joint combined amphibious landing — where U.S. Marines and the Australian Diggers will land together on a beach in simulated combat. We’ll also see our civilians, members of the US State Department and DFAT, living together in barracks providing critical input on diplomatic, humanitarian, legal, refugee and many other issues — and contributing to new thinking.
Throughout Talisman Saber, we are developing relationships — so that when something happens, we don’t wait for a directive, we know each other. We can immediately snap into action. Because, as Admiral Harris likes to say, our Armed Forces have to be ready to fight tonight. Why? Well, I would like you to imagine any public building that you regularly visit. In those buildings, you’ll find one of those little red fire alarm boxes that are so common, we barely even notice them anymore. Those alarms usually have a message on them: “in case of emergency break glass.” It’s been a luxury that we haven’t had to break the glass. But if there is an emergency, we want to know where that little red box is, that it’s available, easy to find, and functional. How do you know it’s functional? You test it.
In Talisman Saber, we are testing ourselves to ensure we are ready should we ever need to break the glass. Whether the glass is broken in response to a humanitarian disaster, or to secure our most vital interests, it is essential that we test ourselves so we are prepared for that day. In Talisman Saber, we are validating the systems that we have put in place that allow us to operate together in peace time, and work together in times of war and crisis.
Like the fire alarm, you don’t want to test these systems under duress — that’s why we do it today. If something doesn’t work, we’ll know it during this exercise — and because we have such incredible relationships, when it doesn’t, we can pick up the phone and fix it. Say you are a young ADF captain and something isn’t right with the Amphibious Landing, so you get on the wire and work it out with your neighboring American company commander. From here on out, you know each other, and you learn you can rely on each other.
And what multiple generations have made clear to us is that these relationships — whether formed nearly 100 years ago during the Battle of Hamel, 75 years ago in the Battle of the Coral Sea, or in Darwin, or in Guadalcanal, or more recently in Afghanistan or Syria — it is these relationships between Australians and Americans that support and allow for the implicit trust we have in each other. This is the true interoperability — and indeed, the core — the soul even — that sustains our Alliance. Because years from now — those two captains will find themselves drawing upon what they learned at this year’s Talisman Saber and working together over and over again — maybe in an exercise — or perhaps in a HADR — when we can’t afford to have something go wrong with an amphibious landing. These relationships, which I encourage you to develop — they are what will ensure we are ready — that the Alliance is ready — for whatever comes.
Ladies and gentlemen: thank you all for participating in Talisman Saber 2017 and for serving. I hope you recognize that what you do over the next days and weeks matters a great deal – it is critical to our regional security and vital national interests. And the connections you make with each other provide immeasurable benefit to our countries, the region, and indeed, the world. While at times we may take our Alliance for granted, this exercise serves as a reminder of the generations who came before us who had to break the glass – and from such difficult times, built the incredible bonds between our countries that make the Alliance the unique partnership it is today. I fully expect that you will continue with that tradition, and look forward to seeing the exercise successfully unfold.