Hagel was sworn in Wednesday as the 24th secretary of defense for the United States. His swearing-in followed a narrow vote in his favor Tuesday in the U.S. Senate.
Hagel said Wednesday at the Pentagon that the United States was at a defining moment in terms of the role it plays on the international stage.
U.S. forces have provided logistical assistance to French operations in Mali and to 2011 conflict in Libya. Meanwhile, U.S. combat forces, after more than 10 years, are starting to wrap up their mission in Afghanistan.
Hagel said the international community "looks to America for leadership" but stressed that the United States can't dictate policy to the world. That leadership, he said, would come by finding a common point of engagement with members of the international community.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said the Defense Department under Hagel's tenure would be a forward-looking institution.
"His goal is to look to the future," Little said before Wednesday's swearing-in.
Hagel's stances on Iranian foreign policy and the Iraq war was criticized by Republicans in the Senate/
A former Republican senator from Nebraska, Hagel is the first Vietnam War veteran to serve as U.S. defense secretary.