Ah, the Munich Security Conference.
Certainly the most prestigious of all the global security conferences, with routine appearances by heads of government, Defense and other ministers of state, brilliant academics, journalists and even a few Admirals and Generals.
This year's event over the past three days featured four key elements to my eye.
The first was a rare "dual appearance" by the US Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State, Leon Panetta and Hilary Clinton. They spoke in sequence to the audience, and their remarks were streamed live as well.
The theme both of them hit hard was the enduring importance of the European partnership to the United States.
Secretary Clinton said, "Europe is the partner of first-resort of the United States," and echoed President Obama's quote that "Europe remains the cornerstone of US engagement in the world." Secretary Panetta lauded European participation around the world with the US, notably through the NATO alliance. As he pointed out, there are nearly 40,000 European troops in Afghanistan alongside 88,000 Americans -- and their proportional casualty rates are as high overall.
Certainly there are questions in the minds of Europeans as the new US defense strategy articulates an emphasis on the Pacific and Middle East.
My view is that while the US sees strategic challenge in the Pacific and Middle East, we see enduring strategic partnership in Europe; and strategic opportunity globally, to include Latin America and Africa.
The US is a global power and will continue to work broadly in the world, alongside our best "pool of partners" -- Europeans.
A second key theme that emerged was concern over events in Syria.
Several commentators, including Senator John McCain and the Nobel Laureate Tawakkul Karman, commented on the need for the international community and especially the UN security council to condemn the violence of the Assad regime. Senator McCain and Secretary of State Clinton both spoke in particular on the need for Russia and China to cease their vetoes of appropriate resolutions.
A third dialog that caught my attention was on cyber. I feel as though in the world of cyber, we have the greatest gap between the level of threat and the degree of preparation -- we have a long way to go. I'm working with the NATO Center of Excellence for cyber security and thinking through how we might be more operational, a la the new US CYBERCOM.
Fourth and finally, there seemed to be clarity on the overall timeline in Afghanistan.The NATO alliance and the ISAF coalition of 50 nations all concur that we are on track with our transition to Afghan led security operations, and we intend to hand over security responsibility for the entire country by the end of 2014. We have already moved to place 50% of the nation's population under Afghan security responsibility. This will allow us to continue the process of turning over to our Afghan partners, recognizing that there will be combat operations throughout this period -- albeit with an increasing role for support to Afghans.
There is also a nascent discussion about what the ISAF and NATO presence will be post-2014. It will clearly include ongoing cooperation in the security sector, as evidenced by pledges at the 100-nation / international organization Bonn conference last fall -- stay tuned for the May Chicago NATO/ISAF summit.
All in all, a good conference that lived up to its billing as a top-flight gathering of those concerned about 21st century security.
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Commander, US European Command