Secretary of Defense Speech

Remarks Honoring Secretary George Shultz with the 2016 Secretary of Defense IDEAS Award


Thank you President Hennessey. It’s great to be back at Stanford and a privilege to be among such a dynamic group of scientists, scholars, and technologists as we honor Secretary Shultz with the Secretary of Defense IDEAS award.

It might seem odd for a Secretary of Defense to be giving one of the Department of Defense’s highest honors to a former Secretary of State. But I believe that this is deeply appropriate given what I believe is so deeply valuable about the great institution it is my privilege to lead. For our defense is so vital, that we have to take the long view in how we shepherd it, from strategic era to strategic era, from administration to administration, across parties, and across our government. This is a strategic perspective which George Shultz has personified across his career.

As George understands so well, cultivating a strategic perspective means keeping the world in synoptic view, seeing all of its parts and problems at once, and using the great physical and moral strength of the world’s greatest nation wisely, to protect our people and make a more prosperous world. It means knowing which mix of the full range of policy tools -- including but not limited to the finest fighting force the world has ever known -- is best for a given situation.

It means understanding where our challenges today fall in the broad arc of history, and how we can use history’s lessons to pursue today’s opportunities. And it means keeping ever grounded in our national security interests … they’re our North Star whether in the Asia-Pacific, in Europe, or the Middle East.

That focus on remaining grounded in America’s interests reminds me of a story about how then-Secretary of State George Schultz would conduct interviews with newly-sworn-in Ambassadors … some of whom are named to their posts by Presidents for reasons, in all candor, other than their in-depth knowledge of the country to which they are to be posted. George would point them to a large globe in his office and then ask, “Mr. Ambassador, so where is this country of yours?” The Ambassadors, fully briefed, would take a look at the globe, confidently spin it around, and point proudly to their assigned post. But Secretary Schultz would politely return the globe to its former position, point to the United States, and say: “No, Mr. Ambassador, this is your country.”

Remaining ever-focused on America’s enduring interests in the face of the world’s complexity is something we contend with every day at the Department of Defense, as we face no fewer than five major, immediate and evolving challenges: countering the prospect of Russian aggression and coercion, especially in Europe; managing historic change in the vital Asia-Pacific region; strengthening our deterrent and defense forces in the face of North Korea’s nuclear provocations; checking Iranian aggression and malign influence in the Gulf; and accelerating the defeat of ISIL in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria and everywhere it’s metastasizing around the world.

While we do not have the luxury of choosing among these challenges, we do have the ability to set a strategic course for the future: a future that’s uncertain but will surely demand America’s leadership, values, and military strength.

And while our strategic objectives must be clearly framed, they must also be pursued across the whole of government and with the support of every government agency and every instrument of American power.

Although the terms “whole-of-government” and “smart power,” are relatively new, the basic concept isn’t. As George Shultz knows full well, the idea of leveraging all resources of state is an enduring principle of strategy and statecraft.

And from citizen-soldier, to policy innovator, to academic and corporate leader, to cabinet secretary – and during so many times of challenge and change – there are few citizens who have learned how to leverage multiple instruments of American power more effectively than George Shultz. And this is one of the central reasons why George J. Shultz was the ideal recipient for the 2016 Secretary of Defense IDEAS award.

I created the IDEAS award, which stands for Innovators in Defense, Enterprise, Academia and Science, to honor the contributions of individuals who have built bridges between the private and public sector, between academia and public life, between agencies and functions of government, and broken silos everywhere they stifle the emergence of new ideas and innovation.

George’s contributions and path to service are similar to one of my great predecessors and mentors, Secretary Bill Perry – the inaugural recipient of the IDEAS Award – who, like George, and thousands of other citizen-soldiers, returned home from war to serve as citizen-scientists and citizen innovators.

Whether here at Stanford, MIT, or University of Chicago, or deep in the bowels of Oak Ridge, at Los Alamos, or making our industrial systems and legendary “arsenals of democracy” more efficient, George and so many of his peers helped lay the groundwork for America’s unprecedented rise.

Through developing new technologies and by cranking out more effective organizational models, they helped ensure that America had the strength to win any war, but also to win the peace. And while they made these contributions as private citizens, they helped maintain the strong connections between America’s centers of innovation and our Defense mission.

For the Defense Department to stay ahead of threats and challenges, we need to maintain these strong connections. And we need to do what George Shultz has done so effectively across his entire career, which is bring diverse and sometimes divergent views to the table to find the most pragmatic solutions.

George’s service as Secretary of Labor, Secretary of the Treasury, and Secretary of State, and Director of OMB certainly puts him in rare company. But it’s not the number of places he’s had at the Cabinet Table that defines his legacy. It’s the diverse groups of people he’s brought to the table to solve complex problems and deliver solutions that has made his leadership so consequential.

So often, it was through George’s strong personal relationships, tended to over decades, whether with assistant secretaries in the departments he led, or with colleagues from MIT, Stanford, or University of Chicago, or with counterparts from Allied nations, that George has left a lasting legacy.

As he once responded to a reporter asking why he was taking a particular trip to see his counterparts in Asia while Secretary of State, George replied, and I quote, ''If you have a garden and you want to see things flourish, you have to tend to it,'' unquote.

That’s also a spirit George brought to his earlier service as Secretary of the Treasury, when he listened to the views of Allies and partners who saw the need for changes in the Bretton Woods financial order. Rather than feel threatened by change, he led efforts to master it by creating consensus around a new system, one that served U.S. interests, while reflecting the changing demands of a global economy.

In fact, the group of colleagues he brought together then would have a permanent legacy, becoming the foundation of a novel organization, which would ultimately become the G-7 group of nations.
George brought a similar style of collaborative and visionary leadership to Foggy Bottom as Secretary of State. From his previous experience as CEO of Bechtel and overseeing its worldwide operations, he appreciated the changes underway in the global economy. He understood that as these new market forces gathered momentum, they would alter diplomacy, technology, and nearly everything we do as individuals and citizens.

Most importantly for our national security, he appreciated how forces emerging in the global marketplace – and within a global marketplace of ideas – would challenge the Soviet Union’s command economy and ideological foundations.

George wasn’t afraid to question presumptions – not just about the direction of the Cold War, but about the nature of our adversaries, their capabilities, and intentions. He was among the first to recognize a pragmatism among the Soviet Union’s rising leaders, helping President Reagan engage Mikhail Gorbachev. He encouraged diplomats at the State Department to develop relationships with their Soviet counterparts, helping to create the openings, dialogue, and mechanisms, which would make a peaceful conclusion to the Cold War possible.

A collaborative, innovative spirit, and one that is devoted to service: this is also one of the great gifts George Shultz has brought to this great university through his years of involvement and leadership. We’ve both spent many fruitful years here at Stanford, and some of that time together. And as anyone who has worked or served alongside George can tell you, he is truly one of the world’s great teachers.

While his lifetime of contributions and insights make George Shultz a worthy recipient of our IDEAS Award, we should remember that he is first and foremost a man of action. He has dedicated his life to finding the best ideas and discovering the most innovative approaches not as a theoretical exercise, but because of his desire to deliver solutions, and ultimately, to deliver greater security and opportunity so that men and women can live full lives, dream their dreams, and raise their children.

While we honor George this afternoon with one of our Department’s highest awards, the greatest honor we can provide him is to emulate his inclusive, collaborative, and courageous approach in how we go about the serious business of citizenship and working together to secure our future.

George, I want to thank you for your example, for your friendship, your leadership, and for your enduring service to our nation and Defense mission. It is now my great honor to present you with the Secretary of Defense IDEAS Award.