September 28, 2021

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken to Embassy Copenhagen Staff

20 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Copenhagen, Denmark

Marriott Hotel

MR DWYER:  Mr. Secretary, on behalf of the U.S. Mission to Denmark, your U.S. Mission to Denmark, I want to say how thrilled we are to have you in Copenhagen today, celebrating the U.S.-Denmark partnership and all that we accomplish together and all that this team accomplishes together.  And we’re particularly pleased that we’re able to do this in person.  I know we haven’t been able to do that much over the that last months – over the last year, so it’s great that you’re able to spend a little bit of time with us.

To my mission colleagues and those who have been around U.S. foreign policy for the last two decades, I know that the Secretary needs no formal introduction, but I did quickly want to touch on just a couple of the highlights of his career.

First, I want to say how pleased I am that there’s still a few of us who started our careers in the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs at the State Department.  After that, the Secretary served on the National Security staff.  He was the senior director for European affairs, Democratic staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, national security advisor to then-Vice President Biden, principal deputy national security advisor and deputy secretary of state for President Obama.  In between all that, he’s been a reporter, practiced law, and worked in civil society.

But for all of that, for me, personally, where he’s cast the longest shadow is the Secretary’s prowess in French.  Early in my career as a young officer, I was sent out to Lyon to open up a small consulate there.  And our ambassador at the time, Felix Rohatyn, said, “(Inaudible) talk to the media, tell America’s story.”  All of which was great except there was a guy at the NSC who spoke absolutely flawless French that the French media loved to turn to on a regular basis.  So I would go out, talk to regional French TV, soldier my way through a conversation on whatever the issue of the day was, get back to the office and sometimes think, “Yeah, I think it went pretty well,” get ready for the next meeting making maybe a pat on the back.  That’s not how it went.  The next meeting it would be, “Yes, Stuart, I saw you on TV and that wasn’t bad, but I heard Tony Blinken yesterday and what you meant to say was” fill in the blank.  (Laughter.)

So, Mr. Secretary, you always set the bar high, and I appreciate you setting the bar high for the State Department today.  So thanks for being with us.  The floor is yours.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, Stuart.  Thank you so much.  Thank you for a wonderful and also unique introduction.  (Laughter.)  And indeed, we did both start in the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs.  I recall recently that the office that I had in the front office of EUR on the sixth floor at Main State prior to my occupying it as a special assistant, the occupant was a large safe, which gives you some idea of the size of the office.  There was just room for a small desk and myself.  And look, you know, there’s progress in life.  I moved one floor up and I got a window.  (Laughter.)  So I think that’s not bad.

But Stuart, thank you for – not just for today but for your leadership of this mission throughout.  I’m really delighted to be here in Copenhagen.  And it’s actually been a while.  I think the – I was here many years ago with President Clinton when he was here I think in 1998, gave a memorable speech, open-air speech with thousands of people.  It was a very powerful, powerful time.  But in between, lots of work with our colleagues here in one way or another.  And this is a particular treat because we’ve finally started traveling again.  That’s good.  Mostly until this week, it’s been mask to mask, so now we’re face to face and that’s a big improvement.

You all know.  You’ve heard from President Biden that he is determined that we lead with our diplomacy.  And to do that, to be the most effective Department we can be, we need other countries, other nations by our side.  We need to be working in partnership.  And there’s a pretty compelling but, I think, also obvious reason for that.  If you think about most of the things you’re working on every single day that are actually going to have an impact on the lives of our fellow citizens back home, whether it’s dealing with climate change, whether it’s dealing with COVID-19, the disruptive impact of new technologies – and I could go down the list – not a single one of those things can be addressed by any one country acting alone, even the United States.  And there is simply no wall high enough or wide enough to guard against some of the downsides that we face from these and other challenges.

So there’s more of a premium than ever before, I think, or at least in the time that I’ve been doing this, on cooperation, coordination, and collaboration, and that starts with our closest allies and partners, like Denmark.  So the work that you’re doing is especially vital, especially important right now.

We’ve made reinvigorating and reimagining those alliances and those partnerships a top priority for the administration.  And you’re seeing as well that we’re re-engaged very energetically in multilateral institutions as well.  And that’s what this trip is actually about: it’s both the reinvigoration of our partnership here with Denmark and also as we head on to the Arctic Council, working multilaterally through that institution to make sure that we do everything we can to have a safe and open Arctic going forward.

I’ve looked hard at what you’ve been doing these recent months in a very challenging time, and not surprisingly, you all have been punching above your weight.  You’ve taken what is already a close and vital partnership and, I think, found ways to make it stronger, and that is very, very significant.

The partnership agreement negotiated with the Faroese to expand our relationship, we had an opportunity to meet with them, and the reopening of the consulate in Nuuk last year after nearly seven decades of absence – two achievements that were reached through a lot of careful diplomatic engagement.  I have some idea of what actually goes into getting results.  They seem to magically appear, but we know a lot of hard work and careful diplomacy goes into them.  So that’s been very positive.

We had a good – I think a good session today, too, with our colleague from Greenland, and there, too, a lot of great work has been done, resolving what are thorny, complex issues, including the Thule Base maintenance contract.  That, too, took a lot of hard and good work.

To Steve Bitner, a special shout-out for leading this effort.  Where are you, Steve?  Thank you.  Again, I have some idea that this is a lot more complicated and challenging than it may seem.  So to you, to the folks who worked with you on that – I suspect there are a few within this room – thank you for bringing that across the line.

And of course, what’s interesting about something like that is it also requires a lot of coordination with other agencies, other colleagues in the government – Department of Defense as well as multiple other agencies – and that means that we’re ensuring not only the base stays operational, but that some of the tension over the contract has been resolved after years of previous negotiations did not get to where we wanted to get.  So congratulations on that.

And then I think what we’re seeing, too, is the work that you’ve done to strengthen the relationship on issues that actually reach far beyond our two countries.  The handover of the NATO training mission in Iraq to the Danish forces highlights a shared concern that we have for making sure that we are continuing to fight and push back against extremism, including Daesh, and that’s just one facet of the partnership we have.

The climate crisis, of course, is front and center.  It’s a central issue for the Arctic Summit, but it’s also a central issue, I think, in our relationship with Denmark.  It’s – I’ve got to tell you, it’s inspiring to see what our colleagues here are doing in their leadership on climate change.  Leadership that not only sets very ambitious targets, as we ourselves have done, but also is very focused on making sure that no one is left behind as some of these transitions that have to take place move forward.  And I think it’s a good example of places we can find, hopefully, lessons from some of what our closest partners are doing that may be applicable back home.

And then, of course, we had the prime minister take part in the climate summit just a few weeks ago, and maybe as important, we have incredibly rich relationships between our researchers, our experts, and our private sectors that are really the cutting edge of climate innovation.

All of this and more in the midst of a pandemic, and that, I know, has forced all of us – has forced you – to adopt and adapt a diplomatic toolkit that looks very different than what we were doing before.  And here, too, I’ve got to tell you, I’m especially grateful as I’ve seen this across the department and I see it in this mission here, people coming together as a team in the face of the pandemic and continuing to do their jobs and serve the interests of the American people.  A couple of highlights have been brought to my attention that I just want flag.  Members of the consular team who provided uninterrupted support to Americans in Denmark, facilitating essential travel between the U.S. and Denmark to protect jobs and other economic interests.  The IRM team built strong telecommuting platforms to allow, I think, the vast majority of the team here to work remotely while management made sure that people who did have to come into work could do so and remain healthy, safe, and secure.  And of course, the security teams that have done so much to keep you all safe in these unprecedented circumstances.

A couple of individuals I would like to say thank you to in particular.  A couple of our nurses: Lone Ledstrup, Bobbi Nitz, who are here, I hope, perhaps somewhere.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for your incredible dedication in keeping the mission healthy during the pandemic, including vaccinating the entire community within one week.  Really, there are not words to thank you enough for that work and for that dedication.

One of the things that I’m taking away from this is that we’re learning a lot – we’ve learned a lot in the course of this pandemic.  I’m a dad with two very small kids, and I think I have a new appreciation myself for how important it is to try to be there, if possible, for dinner or when your kids are up in the morning and having breakfast.  And one of the things I’m taking away from this is we may have, even after COVID, new ways of thinking about how we get the work-life balance right and how we can build in more flexibility to all of our jobs so that we can do that.  So we’re going to look closely at that as we go forward.

But let me close where I began, with a very, very strong thank you to every single one of you at this mission for what you’re doing to build this relationship, this partnership with Denmark, and – because this is what it’s all about – to actually deliver for our fellow citizens back home.  That’s the guiding principle.  That’s the North Star.  In thinking about everything we’re doing, is it making life just a little bit better, a little bit healthier, a little bit more secure for our fellow Americans as well as our friends here in Denmark?  I know you’re doing that every single day and I’m grateful for it.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

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  • Global War on Terrorism: Reported Obligations for the Department of Defense
    In U.S GAO News
    Since 2001, Congress has provided the Department of Defense (DOD) with hundreds of billions of dollars in supplemental and annual appropriations for military operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). DOD's reported annual obligations for GWOT have shown a steady increase from about $0.2 billion in fiscal year 2001 to about $139.8 billion in fiscal year 2007. To continue GWOT operations, the President requested $189.3 billion in appropriations for DOD in fiscal year 2008. As of May 2008, Congress has provided DOD with about $86.8 billion of this request, including $16.8 billion for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Congress has not finalized action on the remaining $102.5 billion. In addition, the President also requested about $66 billion in appropriations for DOD in fiscal year 2009 for GWOT, which was submitted along with DOD's annual budget request. The United States' commitments to GWOT will likely involve the continued investment of significant resources, requiring decision makers to consider difficult trade-offs as the nation faces an increasing long-range fiscal challenge. The magnitude of future costs will depend on several direct and indirect cost variables and, in some cases, decisions that have not yet been made. DOD's future costs will likely be affected by the pace and duration of operations, the types of facilities needed to support troops overseas, redeployment plans, and the amount of equipment to be repaired or replaced. DOD compiles and reports monthly and cumulative incremental obligations incurred to support GWOT in a monthly Supplemental and Cost of War Execution Report. DOD leadership uses this report, along with other information, to advise Congress on the costs of the war and to formulate future GWOT budget requests. DOD reports these obligations by appropriation, contingency operation, and military service or defense agency. The monthly cost reports are typically compiled within the 45 days after the end of the reporting month in which the obligations are incurred. DOD has prepared monthly reports on the obligations incurred for its involvement in GWOT since fiscal year 2001. Section 1221 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 requires us to submit quarterly updates to Congress on the costs of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom based on DOD's monthly Supplemental and Cost of War Execution Reports. This report, which responds to this requirement, contains our analysis of DOD's reported obligations for military operations in support of GWOT through March 2008. Specifically, we assessed (1) DOD's cumulative appropriations and reported obligations for military operations in support of GWOT and (2) DOD's fiscal year 2008 reported obligations through March 2008, the latest data available for GWOT by military service and appropriation account.From fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2007, and for the first quarter of fiscal year 2008 through December 2007, Congress has provided DOD with a total of about $635.9 billion for its efforts in support of GWOT. DOD has reported obligations of about $562 billion for military operations in support of the war from fiscal year 2001 through fiscal year 2007 and for the second quarter of fiscal year 2008 through March 2008. The $73.9 billion difference between DOD's GWOT appropriations and reported obligations can generally be attributed to certain fiscal year 2008 appropriations and multiyear funding for procurement; military construction; and research, development, test, and evaluation from previous GWOT-related appropriations that have yet to be obligated and obligations for classified and other activities, which are not reported in DOD's cost-of-war reports. As part of our ongoing work, we are reviewing DOD's rationale for reporting its GWOT related obligations. Of DOD's total cumulative reported obligations for GWOT through March 2008 (about $562 billion), about $435.1 billion is for operations in and around Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and about $98.9 billion is for operations in Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, the Philippines, and elsewhere as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The remaining about $28 billion is for operations in defense of the homeland as part of Operation Noble Eagle. In fiscal year 2008, through March 2008, DOD's total reported obligations of about $69.8 billion are about half of the total amount of obligations it reported for all of fiscal year 2007. Reported obligations for Operation Iraqi Freedom continue to account for the largest portion of total reported GWOT obligations by operation--about $57 billion. In contrast, reported obligations associated with Operation Enduring Freedom total about $12.7 billion, and reported obligations associated with Operation Noble Eagle total about $89.3 million.
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