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M. Esper: Address to World Summit 2022, Session 6

Address to World Summit
February 11-13, 2022


Good afternoon, everyone. I am honored to address the World Summit 2022 at this important moment in time. This forum builds on last year’s Rally of Hope that I enjoyed being part of as well. This weekend’s event has also assembled an august group of global leaders and experts, and similarly promises to make progress on our shared goals and aspirations.

I want to begin by thanking the Universal Peace Federation and the Washington Times Foundation for sponsoring the World Summit, and I commend the Co-Chairs of the Organizing Committee: H.E. Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and H.E. Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary General of the United Nations, for convening this very important conference.

The theme of reconciliation and the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula is not only important to South Korea and Northeast Asia; it is important for the United States and the rest of the world as well.

I look forward to speaking more on this topic at the Think Tank 2022 forum, which will also bring together experts from a wide range of professional fields—government, academia, civil society, faith-based organizations, the media, business, and the arts—from around the world, and especially from the United States, Japan, and South Korea. This cause is a noble one—to work together, collaboratively, to explore the prospect for improved relations between the Republic of Korea and North Korea.

Next, I want to thank The Washington Times newspaper for supporting this forum. The Times has been a fair and independent voice in Washington, D.C. for decades. It has been a clear and courageous news source that is relied upon and respected by many in the United States and abroad, especially for its coverage of national security matters.

It is also important to recognize and thank Dr. Moon, who founded The Washington Times with her late husband, Reverend Moon, and continues her work today with the Universal Peace Federation. She has made it her lifelong passion to see the world—led by a strong United States—achieve the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula.

I am told that Dr. Moon escaped from North Korea as a young girl when the Communists took over, and that after American forces counterattacked north across the 38th parallel, her late husband escaped a communist prison camp where Christian pastors like him were treated harshly.

Seven decades later, too many innocent people still continue to suffer in the world’s biggest prison we call North Korea. They too, like we do today, long for the peaceful reunification of their homeland and the reuniting of this great people. I am pleased to say that the United States and our allies share in that dream, and we want to work with our allies and friends to see it come true.

Today’s event, and Think Tank 2022, will carry us further down that path, which is why I am honored to join the many other elected leaders, senior officials, and topical experts to discuss how we can advance these great causes.

Despite everything else happening in the world, I am pleased that we are gathering. Too often, we put the urgent before the important. The difficult tasks that are more intractable and complex, and that take longer to resolve, are pushed off into the future. The major strategic challenges that can present the most consequential and long-term effects on a nation are deferred, squandering time and limiting our options, while our opponents exploit our inattention to advance their aims.

The United States is long overdue in making the Indo-Pacific our top priority. I designated it as such during my time as Secretary of Defense. I met with fellow defense ministers at the Pentagon, and travelled to the region extensively to show my commitment. But not everyone in the government, let alone the country, share my commitment. Rather, too many tend to stay in their comfort zones, content to deal with the matters they know and the issues that engage them.

I believe America’s overwhelming presence in the Middle East is a prime example of this myopia. It has prevented us from applying far more attention, action, and resources than what that region needs in this new era of great power competition. Over the last twenty years, while the United States was heavily engaged from Iraq to Afghanistan, China built the largest military in the world, Russia professionalized and modernized its armed forces, and North Korea developed nuclear weapons and ICBMs. The PRC’s diplomatic and economic muscles also grew, and later, so did its willingness to use them.

At the same time, cooperation between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping slowly broadened and deepened, from a collaboration into a seeming partnership today. The latest bilateral meeting between them, and the joint communique they issued, should concern everyone. Needless to say, but important to note, both men are helping to prop up North Korea.

That is why we must address all of these countries if we are to achieve our goals when it comes to resolving our differences with the DPRK. Both China and Russia, meanwhile, have also grown comfortable using their power and influence to get their way. The PRC employs military power to intimidate Taiwan, while Russia deploys it to threaten Ukraine, with both Beijing and Moscow leveraging these tactics to bring others into their sphere of influence, if not control, as each did previously with Hong Kong and Belarus, respectively, for example.

Stronger democracies, which Putin and Xi are unlikely to threaten with military force, will see economic leverage applied against them instead. We have seen Beijing do this to Australia, Korea and others in Asia. And we may see Moscow once again cut off energy supplies to its neighbors to get its way in Europe.

Yet despite what is happening today in eastern Europe, where Russia has amassed 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s border, it is East Asia that is becoming the epicenter of geopolitical instability in the world. This is something I plan to discuss in more detail during the Think Tank 2022 forum.

So if you believe there is a kernel of truth to my statement, then we should talk much more about what to do about it, as I will propose in a moment. Because, while we can’t control the actions of China, Russia, and North Korea, we can certainly manage our own capabilities, commitments, policies, and strategies.

So,…what should we do?

First and foremost, the U.S., Japan, and South Korea must work closely together—far more closely, collaboratively, and continuously—if we are to be successful. Moreover, we must have better cooperation in all domains: economic, diplomatic, information, military, and technological. If we fail to do this, then our adversaries will resist our entreaties, seek to further divide us, and our efforts will suffer.

Second, we must commit to engaging China together, speaking and acting with one voice that shows resolve and determination. Our aim is not to threaten Beijing, but to convince them of our resoluteness so that they will pursue different policies and approaches, beginning with respect for longstanding international law, rules, and norms. Doing so will be critical to resolving our differences with the DPRK as well.

Third, we should look to expand our cooperation and alignment, beginning with nations as far west as India, as far south as New Zealand, and as far east as the Pacific Island nations. Much of this can be done through diplomatic efforts, economic cooperation, tech sharing, and developmental assistance as appropriate…and it should be done multilaterally.

Additionally, we need to get more of our European friends more on board, and we need to firm up the leadership, engagement, and unity of the world’s democracies in all UN bodies and other international organizations. In short, our alliances should be connected; coalitions like the Quad should be expanded; partnerships should be deepened; and institutions must be protected.

Fourth, we must bolster our armed forces, especially our air defense, space, and cyber capabilities and capacities, and exercise them more jointly, more frequently. This will require greater defense spending, but such is the price of freedom and liberty. A strong, capable military, after all, will buttress our diplomacy and actually help us avoid war. Kim Jong Un will take note of this, as much if not more than, presidents Xi and Putin. It will make diplomacy look far more appealing to him.

Fifth, we must leverage these new tools and partners to reenergize our efforts to resolve our many differences peacefully with Pyongyang. This is a matter that has simply gone on for far too long. We saw glimmers of hope through new diplomatic approaches these last few years, but it is time for a global full-court press that gets us on the proper path toward reunification.

Finally, for the United States, we must lead. We must lead and not get distracted by lesser matters elsewhere in the world. And we must lead with our values, the same ones we all share, such as:

  • the virtues of democracy;
  • the existence of God-given universal human rights;
  • the sanctity of freedoms such as religion, speech, and assembly;
  • and the pursuit of common goals, whether they be peace and prosperity for all, or a commitment to the defense of the international order that promotes them.

Thank you once again for inviting me to participate in the World Summit 2022, and for giving me the opportunity to share my views with you. And I want to thank the Universal Peace Federation and the Washington Times Foundation once again for sponsoring the World Summit, and for their longstanding and noble commitment to the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

Thank you.



To go to the World Summit 2022 Schedule page, click here.