Speech by President von der Leyen at the award ceremony of the Henry A. Kissinger Prize 2021

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Dear Mrs Peterson,

Dear Jim,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As a four-star General and former Secretary of Defense, James Norman Mattis knows a thing or two about leadership. In his latest book he sums it up as the ‘three Cs’: competence, caring, conviction. These values do not just describe his leadership style. They describe Jim Mattis, the man himself. I vividly remember our first conversation. It was beginning of 2017. Jim Mattis had only been Secretary of Defense for a few days. President Trump had just called NATO ‘obsolete’. I was aghast; and – like most of my Colleagues – deeply concerned. In our conversation, Jim assured me that NATO would remain the bedrock of American foreign policy. He made it clear that for him, NATO was the glue that held together the security of the US and Europe, and he made it clear that he cared deeply about the views of European allies. He found calm words of wisdom amid the storm.

Jim Mattis quickly became a reassuring presence for us at the Pentagon. With him at the helm, we were confident someone in the inner circle of the US administration knew the value of the transatlantic alliance. And we knew, we could count on him as a reliable friend. ‘History is clear,’ Jim Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his confirmation hearing, ‘nations with strong allies thrive, and those without them wither.’

And Jim knew America’s allies very well. During one of my visits to the US as Defence Minister, he took the time to list the German armed forces’ contributions to global security. He was fully aware of all our missions, on all continents. He also added that he was a newcomer and that he was ready to listen to his colleagues. The effect, of course, was immediate: Everyone was ready to listen to him.

Dear Jim,

In the toughest of times, you kept our transatlantic partnership alive. You were a steadfast ally on whom we could always count. And you were a guardian of the internationalist tradition in American foreign policy, at a time when this view was anything but popular in Washington D.C. For this alone, your contributions to transatlantic relations are exceptional.

Of course, we all know Jim Mattis – the military man. His 44-year career began in 1969, when he enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserve. A career that brought him to the highest ranks of NATO as Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, as well as head of the United States Central Command. Many of us also know Jim Mattis the sophisticated analyst, the well-read man of letters, the scholar. Or, as his marines liked to call him, ‘the Warrior Monk’.

But today, I would also like to focus on Jim Mattis – the man of conviction. It is because of this conviction that Jim resigned as Secretary of Defense in December 2018. His firm belief in America’s leadership role in the world and the importance of trust and respect of her allies. It was again this conviction we saw at play in the summer of 2020. As a military man, Jim Mattis was focused on getting the job done, and has always been a man of few words in public. But in June 2020, he forcefully broke his silence. As Trump threatened to deploy US troops to confront peaceful demonstrators on American soil, General Mattis did not hold back. He spoke out unambiguously to condemn acts that he saw as divisive and contrary to American values. His powerful intervention resonated widely – in America and beyond. His words reminded all of us that there was – that there is – a better America. An America that everyone in this room believes in. His brave words were an act of loyalty. Loyalty to the greater good. Loyalty to the country he loves.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Jim Mattis is a soldier whose competence is matched by very few. A scholar who cares deeply about the men and women in uniform, who cares deeply about his friends and, sometimes, even the enemy. And he is a man of the ‘three Cs’: competence, caring, conviction. There are no better words to characterise this evening´s laureate.

Dear Jim,

Thank you for your outstanding service to our transatlantic community. Thank you for your commitment to what the alliance between the US and Europe can mean to the world. And thank you for your friendship and support. Congratulations, on behalf of all of us, on being awarded the Henry A. Kissinger Prize. I cannot think of a more worthy laureate.

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