• Opening Remarks for the 10th Aspen Security Forum

    BY: Nicholas Burns

    Welcome to the 10th Annual Aspen Security Forum.

    A very warm welcome to all of you for the next three days of discussion and debate about America, our national security challenges and our role in the world.

    I’m Nick Burns, Executive Director of the Aspen Strategy Group. We are the very new and very proud organizers of the Aspen Security Forum.

    The Aspen Strategy Group is now in its 35th year of meetings here in Aspen.  Our membership is comprised of Republicans, Democrats and Independents; of Conservatives, moderates and liberals.  We come from the ranks of government, business, journalism and academia.  I don’t believe any of our members have switched to the Socialist camp but they would still be welcome if they did.

    We are led by co-chairs, Professor Joe Nye of Harvard University and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of Stanford University.

    We subscribe to a radical notion for the U.S. these days—that we should be resolutely Non-Partisan as a group and discuss and debate the great issues of our time in a civil and respectful manner.

    For over three decades, we have met privately and off the record.  We will continue to do so here in Aspen each summer.

    But we thought it important, especially at this time of discord and division in America, to involve our group in this very public discussion—the Aspen Security Forum, governed by the same principles of respect, openness, tolerance and the abiding conviction that we are all patriotic Americans and we all love our country.

    If there was ever a time to come together in such a spirit, it is now.

    We meet this week at a time of transformation in the global power balance, of significant challenges to America’s national security and, for the first time since the Second World War, of persistent questions about America’s willingness to lead in the world.

    The Aspen Security Forum was founded ten years ago by Chairman Emeritus Clark Ervin and the Aspen Institute to be just such a forum for public debate and discussion.

    A decade ago, terrorism was an existential concern as it is now.

    Al Qaida was still attempting to blow up American airplanes;

    The U.S. was still deeply enmeshed in the Iraq and Afghan Wars;

    Ten Years Later, the Trump Administration—rightly in my view—has cited the two great authoritarian powers—China and Russia—as now the most significant threats to our national security.

    We’ll focus on both of these countries this week:

    Russia’s continued assault on our electoral system and on social media platforms and its continued aggression in Ukraine;

    China’s outright theft of U.S. Intellectual Property; its power play in the South China Sea and its crackdown on the Uigher population of western China as it casts, a wary, menacing eye on Hong Kong;

    It has been striking to see the American political leadership from liberal democrats to President Trump, from senior Democrats to senior Republicans, unite behind a banner of outright competition with China.

    Gone is the careful American balance between competition and engagement with China during the past forty years.  Have we swung to far to one extreme, especially as we seek to work with China in the future on Climate Change and stabilizing a precarious global economy?   That question should be front and center this week in Aspen.

    We’ll also discuss the continued threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea and that of Iran–a nuclear weapon wannabe and destabilizing force in the Middle East.

    And there are many other vital issues on this week’s agenda:

    Should the U.S. move to end the Afghan War, now in its 18th year, the longest in our history?

    How can we combat most effectively continued extremism in the Moslem World;

    How do we face the reality of cyber espionage, cyber crime and cyber terrorism?

    How can we maintain the U.S. military edge as our rivals develop a new generation of military technologies propelled by A.I, machine learning, quantum computing and biotechnology?

    And what is our future in Space as we mark this week one of the greatest achievements in American history—Apollo 11’s landing on the Moon fifty years ago this week and, as President Kennedy foresaw, its safe return to earth.

    In addition, there is, of course, the elephant in the room–President Donald Trump and his America First Agenda.

    His advisers and supporters here this week will be right to point to strong economic growth, substantial concessions by trade partners, an unapologetic defense of Israel and the Gulf States, continued strong ties to India and the fact that war with North Korea is not, mercifully, on the U.S. agenda.

    His detractors, and I have to be transparent with you in placing myself in this camp, will charge that he is weakening our alliances; dismantling the global trade order; slashing refugee admissions to the U.S. during the greatest refugee crisis since 1945, and coddling Kim Jung Un while he never misses a chance to castigate Angela Merkel and Teresa May.

    President Trump’s policies will be on our Aspen center stage this week and, when you think about it, he wouldn’t have it any other way!

    We will discuss all of this and more in a spirit of frankness, openness and tolerance for the many differing views in this room.

    We have many people to thank for the extraordinary conference ahead of us during the next three days:

    Our major Underwriters—Lockheed Martin, Symantec and Deliotte with its basecamp that will livestream the entire proceedings;

    Our returning partner Microsoft—please visit its secure election booth here at Aspen Meadows;

    We are very pleased to welcome new partners—Accenture, McKinsey and Co., Oracle and United Launch Alliance—you can’t miss its 8-foot rocket in the lobby.

    Lastly, we are grateful for the additional support from MITRE and to American Airlines for getting many of you here and to Cap Gemini for its support of our Scholar’s Program.

    Finally, NBC/MSNBC has been a terrific partner for us in transmitting our conversations around the world and in bringing so many distinguished journalists here to the Aspen Security Forum.

    It’s now time for our first speaker.  We are honored by the participation this year of the Secretary General of NATO, the Honorable Jens Stoltenberg, a great friend of the United States.

    He is, without any doubt, one of the most effective and important NATO leaders in its history.

    Under his leadership, NATO continues to keep the peace in Europe and North America as it has since its founding 70 years ago this past April 4.

    It has helped to liberate more than 100 million East Europeans since the end of the Cold War by bringing them into our alliance as key allies.

    And, on 9/11, when I was a new American Ambassador at NATO, our allies rose to our defense, invoked the Article 5 mutual defense clause of our treaty and went to war with us in Afghanistan.  They are still there with us today, suffering more than 1000 combat deaths in the process.  We Americans are grateful to have such allies in an often hostile world.

    Here to introduce him more fully is Sheila Jordan of Symantec.

    The Secretary General will then be interviewed by Courtney Kube of NBC News.

    Thanks, once again, to you all for being with us this week.


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