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Remarks by Secretary Carter at Syracuse University on the Force of the Future, Syracuse, New York

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
March 31, 2015

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Thanks. That, from someone of the distinction of Jim Steinberg, means a lot. Jim, you've -- you all know you're blessed to have Jim as your dean up here. There is hardly anybody in Washington who doesn't have the highest regard for Jim, with the service he's given, the advice he continues to give to this very day, the government, and then his leadership of an institution which represents the future of public service. And thank you, it's good to see you my friend. Our families, our friends, also. I'll be sure I tell Stephanie hello also.

Chancellor, thank you for being with me here and earlier this morning. Dean, thank you. Vice Chancellor Mike Haney, congressman, lieutenant governor, thank you for being here. And thanks for what you do for our country, in our service.

And above all, to all of the faculty and administrators of Syracuse University, what a remarkable legacy of service to the institution I'm now privileged to lead. Over decades now, wasn't fully aware until we were talking earlier this morning about how this all got started, after World War II. And I was kind of familiar with the last few decades, but I didn't know about how you all got started.

And you have done so much to welcome our veterans and their families. And now, to do what we really need, which is to couple thoughtful intellectual work to understand the opportunities -- and I much prefer the word "opportunities" to "challenges," as Jim mentioned. The tremendous opportunities represented by this amazing group of people we call our veterans. The opportunities to better our country and better the future of the institution that I hold so dear.

I also want to shout out to my friend Sean O'Keefe, also an extremely distinguished public service -- public servant of broad reach. Again, widely respected both sides of the aisle, all parts of -- we so need that today -- the ability to bring people together and come together, particular in the national security sphere. And Sean represents that. And thank you, sir. Appreciate it. It's great to see you.

I got a briefing from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families this morning, describing all of the incredible pathbreaking work that you're doing. So important, and sadly, actually, not replicated anywhere else in the whole country but here. And essential work. And then you're doers also.

I talked to Howard Schultz the other day, just one of your many, many partnerships with the Schultz Family Foundation -- Schultz of Starbucks fame, the Onward Opportunity Program. So, I'm really grateful for everything that you think and everything that you do here. It's terrific. And I -- and it's important to me because I've been in this job now for five weeks or so. And I know I'm a man in a hurry. I've got a lot on my mind and a lot of things that I want to help our country to do. But uppermost in my mind is ensuring that we have in generations to come what today gives us the finest fighting force the world has ever known. And that's not our technology -- that comes second. It's our people. Our wonderful people.

And so, I am trying to ensure that in the next generation, and the generation after, we have the kind of excellence in our ranks represented by today's. And that means we have to recruit the best and attract the best and explain what we do to the smaller and smaller fragment -- or fragment portion of our society that already has a military background or a family member in the military. We need to explain, we need to reach out, we need to recruit. And for that reason, I went to my old high school yesterday in Philadelphia, and talked about the excitement of a military career, and how wonderful it is to be part of something bigger than yourself, and to be part of something that is excellent. And also part of something that leads on. And at the same time, to challenge the building from which I come to think -- as I say, think outside the five-sided box called The Pentagon about how we need to change so that we remain attractive to people to our children and our children's children, recognizing that all generations are different. They're not like us. They have a different way of thinking about their careers, about choice, about what excites them, about what they want to do in the way of friends and family and everything else. And we need to understand that and connect to that to continue to have the best people come in.

And yesterday, I was at Fort Drum talking to some military folks and their spouses about their -- and these were all folks that are right on the cusp of making the decision themselves about whether to stick with us or go off and do something else in life. And so we were -- I wanted to learn from them what were the considerations that went into their thinking, with an eye, obviously, to my preferences, which is that we keep them, and that we continue to be attractive to them and they see a few more years with us building upon the skills that they have learned and the achievements they have already in the military, and continue to bring that to us. But if they make the other decision, wishing them well. And that gets to the third issue, which is what happens when you become a veteran.

And to me, that -- that is a -- a loss for us, but a gain for the country. Because I think our people are some of the most promising, constructive, well-contributing citizens we have. They've -- they've had, for their ages in many cases, astonishing levels of responsibility and breadth of responsibility, well beyond the narrow military art.

Today's national security challenges -- you all know from picking up the newspaper -- are not purely military in character. They are political and economic and social in a complicated way. You see that in the role of social media. You see it in the attention that we need to give to conflict prevention and the connection between issues that we used to think were completely different, like public health, or arctic issues and security. It's just a much wider game now. You can't take that narrow point of view that, I suppose, was possible for me to take earlier in my career. Not so anymore.

So that's another way in which we need to think big and we need to think broadly. And our people have a lot of that breadth and a lot of that experience. So they're a great, great asset for our country. So when they leave us, we continue to consider them ours. Veterans always, and Americans, and a great asset.

And so, our obligation to the country and to them is to help them transition, as we call, from military life to civilian life. And that is another place where this institution is pioneering, both in thinking and in doing. And we've learned a few things in the last few years through the research of -- of folks here and through the experience of having 2.6 million service members cycle through two very long wars.

Okay, nobody likes war. Nobody likes war that last that long, but there's a silver lining here, if there is one. And that is the tremendous number of talented people who have borne great responsibility and great sacrifice, and know what that means.

We've learned, for example, that it's best for them, and, therefore, best for the country, if they start thinking about life after the military as long as they're in the military. Because people today want to think about their futures. They don't like getting locked into anything. They like the idea of choice and agility and moving here and there. And, again, if we're going to have a new generation, we have to offer them that. We can't offer them a conveyor belt that you get on and you just -- you don't move until you get off. We're not going to be appealing if we do that. And so, we're going to need to change the way we think about things.

So, this transition is not a phenomenon for the end of service, it's for the entire duration of service, and for thereafter, where we have continuing responsibilities and continuing opportunities from our folks.

We have put into place what I regard in just the last little while, a still and improved transition program that I think will evolve as we learn more, as informed by your research. It's pretty good now. It's certainly the best that we've been able to think of. We worked really hard at it. We're very committed to it. We work with other agencies, the government. Other levels of government like state and local. We work with the private sector. All that's necessary. I think we can improve our game further. And the way we'll know how to improve our game is to build our programs on the back of careful research of a kind that, as I said earlier, this institution, and this institution almost alone in our country is actually doing. So we're hugely dependent upon the intellectual foundation of Syracuse University and its thinking here.

One last thing I should say here is that the dean here -- military service is one form of public service. The school you lead represents another form of public service. The school that Jim leads, another form of public service. And even as we need to think about conflict and the solution of conflict in the broadest possible way, we need to think about public service in the broadest possible way.

I obviously have a thing about military service. So, I'm going to try to get my dibs in first. But I have to confess that there are other disciplines and other orientations that also contribute to public life. And, again, there's just nothing like it.

And I look out on all of your faces. And you wouldn't be here if you didn't have at least an inkling of this also. There's nothing better than getting out of bed in the morning and knowing you're going to be part of something bigger than yourself. That's worth everything. It's worth all the effort. It's worth all the trouble. It's worth not getting paid a zillion dollars, which you're certainly not going to get in public service. And it's the reason why all the people you see here in uniform, out of uniform, do what they do.

And one of the reasons our country is, I believe, exceptional in the world is because of the spirit that we bring to public service.

And so, we don't just care about ourselves, we care about the needs of everyone. And that's reflected in the way we try to conduct ourselves around the world, but it's very much reflected in the way we conduct ourselves within this country.

You guys are part of that, so I'm grateful to be on your team, and appreciate the opportunity to be here with you today.

(Applause.)

And now, I think you're going to moderate a -- who else would be moderating this Q&A?

(Laughter.)

DEAN LORRAINE BRANHAM: Yes, who else?

Secretary Carter, first let me welcome you again to Syracuse University. We're so delighted that you could be here and take time out of your busy schedule to come and speak with us about your thoughts about the future of the military and the changes that are taking place.

And I don't want to turn this into another confirmation hearing for you --

(Laughter.)

-- however, I feel, as a former journalist, I'd be remiss if I did not ask you about the burning question of the day, and that is today's deadline for the Iranian nuclear talks that are going on, and your thoughts about future military strategy in light of whatever comes out of those talks.

SEC. CARTER: Great question, and very, very timely, Dean.

In fact, those talks are ongoing right now. My colleague and friend John Kerry is conducting those talks. I do not know how that will come out. I do know that the president has been completely adamant and completely consistent that he wants a good deal and that a -- no deal is better than a good deal (sic).

So I think if there's one that is approved, it will be a good deal. And that is -- means one that keeps us and the region safe from Iranian nuclear ambitions.

I'll tell you -- so, I can't tell you, because I don't know how that's going to turn out.

I will tell you as the secretary of defense, I have some responsibilities, no matter how this particular round of the negotiations turns out.

One is that the president has also said that with respect to his determination that Iran not have a nuclear weapon, as he says, all options are on the table. And one of my jobs is to make sure all options are on the table.

So of course we hope it doesn't come to that, but I'd just say, that's one of my responsibilities.

And another is the broader security picture. This is a piece of the overall mosaic of security in that part of the world. And so, whether it's terrorism, whether it's possible threats to waterways, whether it's proliferation of ballistic missiles and other things, we have a broad set of responsibilities in that region. And I'm supposed to be paying attention to the discharging of them.

At the same time, of course, we all hope that a good agreement is possible. That would be a good -- a good thing. But at this hour, I don't know how that's going to turn out.

MS. BRANHAM: Thank you very much for your answer.

We're going to take questions from members of the S.U. community, particularly our students. We like to give you a chance to pose questions to the secretary. And I know there's a young man who I saw earlier -- (inaudible) -- I'm going to give you the chance to have the first question.

Q: (off-mic.) So, my name's Justin Adderley. I'm a sophomore here at S.U.

I'm wondering what made the Department of Defense think Syracuse University, what stood out that you want to partner with this university, rather than some other institution?

SEC. CARTER: Okay. Question was, I don't know if everybody got to hear it, why partner with Syracuse University?

And the brutal answer is the competence of this place. And it makes it a preferred partner. You've been committed for a long time. You were way out in front in the early post-World War II years. And so there's a level of commitment and sophistication to the thinking here that we really need. And they, "Why a university?" I mean, why a university is because we have to think about what we're doing here. This is a complicated world. We live in a complicated society. We got a complicated new generation that gets to that we are trying to instill with the virtues of public life. And you can't just practice that. You have to think about what you're doing.

And I -- one of my greatest frustrations as secretary of defense -- and this is true of any of us in positions of responsibility -- is, when you're faced to make decisions or to act, and you know the basis upon which you're doing so isn't completely solid. That's very frustrating. So we need a better intellectual basis for us to act on in this very important mission we have. And that we get from a place that knows how to couple training with scholarship with action. And there's just no other place that does it like Syracuse.

MS. BRANHAM: The young lady in the orange, and then the gentleman up there in the white so the -- the roving mikes can get to you. Yes, that one right there.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary --

MS. BRANHAM: And would you please identify yourself for the secretary?

Q: Yes. I'm Alex Tachbarth. I'm a second-year MPA I.R. student at the Maxwell School. My question is also a policy question about the Middle East. We seem to be pursing common objectives with Iran and Assad in some instances, while opposing them in others in a Middle East increasingly divided among sectarian lines. We're sometimes allied with Sunnis and sometimes with Shiites. At a time of growing instability and widening conflict when it's difficult to tell who's on our side, what principle or principles are guiding our strategy in the Middle East?

Thank you.

SEC. CARTER: That's a very good question. And I -- I -- it is -- it's a confusing, crazy quilt of a region. But our interests are the anchor and the point of departure for our policy. So we're pursuing our interests, whether it be in Iraq, where the defeat of ISIL is going to require a -- a force that will make defeat lasting. And that force we want to be provided by a multi-sectarian government of Iraq that holds the country together. We very much would hope that that can be done. And so we're supporting that effort.

To the Syrian side, where we have, as your question indicates, on the one hand, we have ISIL, and on the other hand, we have the Assad regime, neither of whom reflects our interests. And we're trying to create there a third force, at the moment, quite small, that is more reflective of our interests. And likewise, you go around to Yemen, North Africa -- the grounding point is the pursuit of our interests and our values.

MS. BRANHAM: Thank you for your question.

The gentleman there, and then we will do the gentleman there, if you could get the mic to him.

Q: Hi, I'm Wai Saling. I'm a sophomore economics and policy studies major. My question for you is that, in light of the more recent combat and warfare around the world, whether it be in Ukraine or in Middle East, with intelligence and special forces seeming to, like, take on a more prominent role, how is the Department of Defense trying to streamline command structures or shift its stance to favor special forces, air strikes -- that kind of thing? How is the DOD changing the way it looks at warfare for the newer challenges?

SEC. CARTER: Also excellent question. And we're trying to keep up with the changing nature of conflict and conflict prevention.

You mentioned special forces. I mean, the truth be told, they've long been an important part. But there's no question that you're right -- we have grown them in size and breadth of their mission and the kind of enablers that they have within them, and that we provide them with. Because they are very frequently our best instrument in a conflict that has not -- as we hope they never do -- yet erupted to a case of full-scale war.

And in recognition -- also in recognition of the fact that a lot of conflicts today are not traditional state-on-state conflicts. And so, the traditional armed formations of military history are not always appropriate to today's conflicts. Special forces, in many cases, much more so.

And I'll just say one -- repeat one thing I said earlier, special forces takes you to what people call the whole-of-government approach. But very much to the importance of the rest of our government.

Jim Steinberg, long experienced in the Department of State. I was speaking to our ambassadors from around the world the other day at the State Department sticking up for the State Department's budget. The secretary of defense sticking up for the State Department. We need that. We need the Department of Homeland Security. We need law enforcement.

And so, in today's world, you can't just think of us. You know, I appreciate the support we get, but when it comes to things like getting rid of sequester, it's not just our department, which is adversely affected by sequester, it's all these other ones, as well. And you can't be successful in today's world, if you're only playing with one tool in the toolkit. And we can't afford to take ourselves apart in the way that, you know, sequester is suggesting.

MS. BRANHAM: We had a --

Q: Thank you very much for coming, sir. Thank you for your service and thank you for promoting public service in all its forms. My name is Zach Lloyd III, your doctoral student in the Department of Public Administration and International Affairs. And I'm wondering, you had rightfully said, people first and technology second.

But I'm wondering if you can comment on the department's ongoing acquisition initiatives and their role in sustaining what is increasingly a threatened source of technological advantage. If you had to point to a couple of things long term that you felt were really pushing acquisition in the right direction, after you and your colleagues in the acquisition in technology in logistics division leave, what would be those things that you would look at?

SEC. CARTER: Okay. Great. Two aspects to that. One is on the technology front. The fact that we need to reckon with is that when I started out in my career as a physicist working on defense problems, all of the technology of consequence for defense was American. And most of that, in fact, arose within the walls of the defense establishment.

Just think of the Internet. The communication satellite, the ballistic missile. All of those things started in defense. That's not the case anymore. The technology base is global and it is commercial. And so, we can't stay within our own walls and have what we need for technological excellence in the future.

And we need -- that means that we can't just grow our own and we can't have the reflect of just growing our own. That's in every field. IT is one, bio-engineering another one. A great portentous significance for all aspects of society, but including defense. That's not -- we're not going to make the inventions there. We're going to have to grab them in and apply them to our own needs.

The other thing your question raises is the issue of reform. And I just talked about sequester. And I -- it's important to put these two ideas together. We need relief from sequester and a reasonable forward-path budget. But I know I can't ask for that, unless I can also show that I am aware of the fact that we don't spend every dollar in the best possible way that we need to get better.

So I'm determined to have reform in defense, not just in the acquisition system, which is your question, but in all aspects of it. Because it's like any other institution or a society, we have to constantly be hard on ourselves to change, to lean ourselves out, to get skinner to do more with less. The taxpayer depends on that. And simply for me to come and as for more money doesn't wash.

I don't like sequester. I think it's very damaging. But I don't expect to get full sympathy from the taxpayer, unless I can show them that we're also working on the reform side. So it's incredibly important.

MS. BRANHAM: Another question for the secretary? This young lady right here in the middle.

While they're getting the mic to her and then there's a gentleman up there, I wanted to ask you about another issue that arose during the confirmation hearings. And I think you mentioned then that you would be in favor of giving what I think they term "more lethal" weapons to the Ukrainians as part of our efforts to assist them.

And I wondered if your view on that had changed, now that you've been in office for a couple months.

SEC. CARTER: The Ukrainians -- let me back up a little, a minute and just remind everyone what I'm sure you know, which is that important as the question of the assistance that we give to the Ukrainians is, the important variables are economic and political, with respect to Ukraine.

We want Ukraine to have -- be able to plot its own forward course. And, living as it does between East and West, and to be given the ability to plot their own course. It is that which Vladimir Putin's Russia has been calling into question.

And the principal way that that's going to change is using economic sanctions, where, I remind you, we're not the critical partner in that. The critical partner are the Europeans, by dint of the bulk of their trade. So that's something we influence, but we don't control.

Likewise, the political aspect of what is, after all, a European country.

When it comes to the -- so, this is going to be decided on the political and economic fronts, not on the military front.

At the same time, we are assisting the Ukrainian military to improve itself, to improve its professionalism, to improve its ability to combat what are these -- this insidious sort of subterranean campaign on the kind that Putin's Russia is mounting on them, because if -- we need to stop it there so it doesn't go anywhere else in Europe.

So we are assisting the Ukrainian military and I think it's important to do that. I just caution us that that's not the main game here.

MS. BRANHAM: I was told we only had time for one question, but I think I actually told two people. So, hopefully, they'll be short questions.

(Laughter.)

Q: I'll make it as short as possible. My name is Ally Carter Olson. I'm a first-year MPA, MAIR student at the Maxwell School.

I think one of our most impressive recent missions has been the work of the U.S. military in combating Ebola in West Africa and saving thousands of lives there on that basis. And, indeed, I think there's a general impression that only the U.S. military could have intervened in the way that was necessary, given the crisis.

Do you think the United States should be pushing other countries, other agencies to develop increased skills in confronting these kinds of crises, so that we're not the only game in town in terms of dealing with these threats?

SEC. CARTER: Well, that's a good question. Of course -- I mean, I'm incredibly proud of what we did do. And the answer to your question is, yes, the international global health system should be much better without the contribution of the United States military.

But I also, you know, doing things like that is not in the first instance why we invest in our military, obviously. But it's a great thing that America's military almost alone around the world does in circumstances like that. And I think you can think about the Japanese reactor meltdown incident. You can think right here at home of Superstorm Sandy.

So, it's a -- it's a privilege to be part of an organization that has that skill, that capacity and those values. And I think it says an enormous amount to the world about who we are and what our military instrument is about when we do things like that.

I mean, look, the reason why we have so many allies and friends around the world, and most of our antagonists have none, isn't because we make them be our allies, it's because they want to be our allies.

And that's because of how we are. And I'll just say that very proudly. And one of the ways that we show that is when we bring a capability designed for an entirely different purpose to bear on human suffering in a different -- in a different domain.

It's great -- it's a great capacity.

MS. BRANHAM: Where's our last question?

Q: Hi, I'll try to be brief as well.

My name is Mark Barnett. And I'm a first-year international relations graduate student. And my question has to do with -- we mentioned special forces. So special force operations, as well as drone strikes -- they seem more of like an ad hoc short-term policy. What would a more long-term policy be towards global security?

Thank you.

SEC. CARTER: Okay. Well, that's a very good question. And you mentioned drone strikes, and so forth. And these are -- are things that we need to do in order to protect ourselves, and that we need to do in a way that is always lawful and appropriate. And in my experience, it's always been done in a way that is lawful and appropriate. But it's also -- to get to your question -- important that it be done in the wider context of a broader strategy towards terrorism and the regions from which it emerges. And there may be nothing you can ever do about some of the ideologies behind terrorism, because they're so distorted that you -- it's hard to build a bridge to the ideology. But you can work on the environment in which safe haven is given to terrorism. And that's a broader kind of question that we can approach.

So, I think it is important to retain the broader -- make sure that whatever we do in a tactical way is part of a broader strategy. But at the same time it's -- to talk about tactics -- we have to protect ourselves. It's a -- it's a major responsibility. It's not principally a defense, or only a defense responsibility. It's -- as I said earlier, you got Homeland Security, law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, economic -- lots of other aspects to it. But, you know, job one for me is to protect this country and protect our people.

MS. BRANHAM: And on that note, thank you very much, Secretary --

(Applause.)

SEC. CARTER: Thank you.

MS. BRANHAM: -- Carter, James Steinberg.

Thank you very much.

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