Remarks by Secretary Carter in a Roundtable at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  -- what a magnificent institution, UT.  And I want to thank President Fenves.  Long before he assumed the leadership of this great public university was an accomplished technologist and engineer.  All the students here who've joined us today, thank you for your engagement, for your interest in subjects that matter to your future and our security.

This morning, I met with my longtime friend, Bill McRaven, your chancellor, who, as you probably know, was --

(AUDIO GAP)

SEC. CARTER:  -- changes the world.  And just by being on campus this morning, I've seen some of what you're doing to make that a reality.

After my visit with Bill, I stopped over at UT's School of Social Work, and there, I met a really impressive group of researchers who are tackling something that's important to us, I'll just mention it to you.  But I was very impressed with the work there, and that's the scourge of sexual assault, which is -- on university campuses, it's particularly offensive to us in the profession of arms, and we're determined to beat it.  But I learned a lot, had an excellent exchange of information and ideas, and I'm grateful to the people I was with earlier this morning.

And there's a point also in that which is whether -- where members of a prestigious university like this or a proud and noble institution like our Department of Defense.  We do encounter similar challenges.  And we should share a common commitment, which is to create an environment where everybody is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and we can get the best out of people.

Now additionally, later this afternoon, I'll visit an advanced computing center and tour a laboratory, where scientists and engineers are making advances in neuro-muscular robotics and advanced data sciences and other fields.

So, just in one day, I'm seeing how determined people here are at UT, to think differently and deliver solutions to some of our most complex challenges.  Everyday we're challenging ourselves to do the same in the Department of Defense, we have to, given the complex and multiple threats we face.

Not just ISIL, which we will defeat, but also North Korea, which is, among other things, firing ballistic missiles.  Russia, who among other things, is illegally annexing Crimea.  China, attempting to change the calculus in the South China Sea, and Iran continuing to export malign influence.  We need the best talent America has to offer to meet these challenges and carry forward our responsibilities.

And as secretary of defense, I have the privilege of leading the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  But that's not a birthright, that's not a guarantee.  We have to earn it again and again.  And I have to pass it on to those who come after me so they have the same privilege that I have.

And to ensure that that force of tomorrow remains as great as the force of today, we in the Pentagon are needing to think, as I tell our folks, outside of our five-sided box about the kinds of solutions and the kinds of careers and the kinds of challenges and the kinds of opportunities that will make the very best.  Like those represented in this room, continue to join our grand institution.  

And I'm proud that so many of you sitting in front of me have already made a decision to be part of this enterprise, which to me, is the noblest thing you can do.

To the large number of our ROTC cadets with us today, I look forward to welcoming you as members of the Department of Defense community.  What you have chosen is consequential.  It makes a great difference, helping to defend one's country and build a better world.  There's nothing better to wake up to than being a part of that mission.

And pretty soon, you'll be assuming the awesome responsibilities of leadership.  The responsibility of ensuring that our citizens, as well as men and women across the world, have the security they need to dream their dreams, raise their families, live lives better full.  That's what it's all about.

Whether you're part of ROTC or not, whether you are a senior or a sophomore, you might be wondering about the world you'll be entering into and there's no question about it.  You're living during a time of incredible change and challenge in a lot of parts of the world.  Every time you turn on the television or surf the Internet, it seems to be some new reason to be apprehensive about the world that awaits you.

And when you see the kind of horrendous attacks ISIL carried out in Brussels, you might ask yourself, what can you do.  I hope you ask yourself, what can you do.  How can you make a difference?  How can you be a part of something bigger than yourself?  And it's a world of opportunities too, wonderful, bright opportunities to leave a better world for future generations.

Now, I admit, I didn't actually think much about national security when I was where you are.  I was all wrapped up in physics, history -- separately, by the way, although the joke people make about me is that I now -- I'm now living the perfect marriage of physics and medieval things -- 

(Laughter.)

-- sports.  But that changed a few years later when I listened to a speech about the future of technology in the military.  It helped me realize that I can make a difference, that I knew something, I could make a difference and that it would be in something of great consequence.  

Those of you who are in ROTC are preparing to become great warriors, but like all students here today, you're also scientists, thinkers, programmers, writers, mathematicians, social scientists, much, much more.  And every day, each of you helps to crack the code in some way, and we need to keep you doing so so that America retains its great strength, its great strength as an incubator of ideas and innovation because that, second only to our people, is what makes our military the greatest.  

For those of you who won't be going into the military but may want to advance our mission and keep our nation secure, we're continuing to find additional opportunities for you to do so, for you to make a contribution.  

One year and one day ago, barely a month after I became secretary of Defense, I went back to my old high school in Philadelphia and I laid out my commitment to this building of the force of the future, as I called it, the all-volunteer force, because that's what we have, that will defend our country in future generations.  

Part of the reforms and the investments we're making in that Force of the Future initiative involve finding ways for more of our citizens, including students like you either in uniform or in some other way, to contribute to our mission.  In fact, a critical part of building the force of the future starts with what we're doing for students like you to improve and enhance our internship programs, to make them more effective at transitioning promising interns into productive professionals at the Department of Defense.  That's how we get good people in, get them to give us a try.  And when they do that, many of them find that the -- the meaning of being part of our mission is something, as I found not too much older than you were, that I couldn't resist being a part of.  Now as part of that, we're also bringing in more of America's best and most innovative minds, and that's why we created the Defense Digital Service, to bring in expertise from America's technology community just to work for a specific time on a specific project, give it a try.  Maybe some of the computer science majors here could come on board for a few months or for a few specific projects.  Perhaps they can even wear a hoodie like where is -- Chris Lynch is here.  Chris, where are you?  The director of the Defense Digital Service.  Where are you, Chris?  There's Chris back there, the only person in the Pentagon who wears a hoodie every day.

(Laughter.)

But he -- he runs our Defense Digital Service, which is just what it says, which is people like Chris who are able to come in and work for a time, and that's okay.  Even if they only come in for a time and then go out again and then maybe come back in again, it's a tremendous source for us of fresh ideas.  And for them, it's a tremendous opportunity to contribute to this great mission.  

As we've introduced reforms and investments to build this force of the future, we've all -- we're always also mindful of the fact that we are different.  We are the profession of arms, we're not a business.  We're responsible for defending this country, providing the security that allows everyone else, all of you and your parents and your friends and your fellow citizens, to go to school, to go to work and to one day provide a better future for the next generation.  

While the military cannot and should not replicate all aspects of the private sector, we can and should and are borrowing practices, technologies and management techniques that work for us so that in future generations we'll keep attracting people of the same high caliber we have today, people who meet the same high standards of performance and ethics and honor and trust we hold our force to today.  

We're making these investments and pushing forward with these reforms for one simple reason:  so that the force of tomorrow can remain as strong as the force of today.  And to make that possible, we need more talented and dedicated people like you, men and women who are committed to making creative and lasting contributions to our national defense.  

The opportunities you've had here at the University of Texas, those opportunities will soon become your obligations.  In a short period of time, you'll have to put your talents and your skills to a productive and practical use.  And I have complete confidence in your ability to make the most of your world class education here.  In fact, there may be a future Bill McRaven among the ROTC candidates here in the audience, or a Nobel Prize-winning scientist or perhaps even a future secretary of Defense.  

Wherever your career takes you, though, I'm confident you'll be driven by the desire to be something larger than yourself.  That's where the call to service begins, and it's my great hope that each and every one of you, in some way or another, will seek it out.  It's been a privilege to be here on this campus, to be among you now, get a little chance to chat with you now and hear your questions.  But I'm looking at the eyes out there and I'm hoping that I'm going to -- some people are maybe even today, maybe even just as a consequence of this encounter today, will tip you over, give us a try, and one way or another, I guarantee you'll find it one of the most rewarding things you can do with the wonderful lives that you all have ahead of yourselves.  

(Applause.)

(AUDIO GAP)

SEC. CARTER:  -- very good point, and a lot of the people that you're dealing with around the world, they remember their history even if you don't.  

And so if you're going to connect with them and you're going to bring them your way, or alternatively, if you're going to defeat them if they fall into that category, it's a good idea to make them know what ticks.  And they, like we, are conditioned about -- by where we came from.  So it's a critical discipline, but it's just one among many.  

You have social scientists here, so your School of Social Work, you have scientists, lots of things.  But history, probably the number one for most people.  

Q:  Sir, I'd like to say -- (inaudible) -- an honor it is to be here.  I have a question about cyber warfare.  Due to the increasingly cyber connected nature of our modern warfare systems and their susceptibility to cyber attack, how are we trained to fight and win on a cyber -- (inaudible) -- battlefield?  And do you think there's a potential risk of losing some of our conventional skill sets in the process?  

SEC. CARTER:  No.  Well, there is definitely that risk, and we're determined not to let it happen, so there is a big priority of ours.  We're making huge investments in cyber.

And the reason is very simple -- it's exactly as you've said.  There's no point in us having all the planes, and tanks, and ships, and soldiers and everything else in today's world unless they -- they're connected.

That's not the all the way our systems work and how you have excellence in the modern world, but it's how our people work.  That's how you think, that's how you -- your upbringing is different from mine, you have lived with this.  And you're not going to accept anything less in your professional life.  If your profession is the military profession, you're going to want to expect that.

So, we've got to be good at it.  And job one for our cyber warriors is defense of our own networks.  That's job one.  We do other things, too -- we help civil society defend itself.  We do offense.  But job one is to defend our own networks.

And the last thing I'll say is it's not really a money issue.  We are making big investments in it, and it -- I -- it's not -- that isn't our (inaudible) limiter and how we improve ourselves.  It's people; it's good people.  

And I'll just tell you, you know, getting people like you to join -- your generation and your level of technical skill, huge priority for me.

And by the way, we have -- we have people in our Guard and Reserve component also who, all week, are network defenders for some of the biggest and best companies, and then come -- during drill time -- and defend our networks.

So, it's just one of the ways where it's so important for us in the defense department to retain that connection to and access to what is best and most innovative in our society.  We can't take that for granted any more, because you know, our -- my grandfather's generation, -- (inaudible) -- World War II.  It's -- it's -- fewer people are in the military now.  I love the people who are, but the reality there -- (inaudible) -- I need to stay connected with them, because we need to be the best in those fields that are so essential to success in the battle field.

Q:  Thank you, sir.  That's really interesting.  So, the Islamic State is clearly very prominent in the media.  In your speech, you listed a few of the other threats that are really big in the national security discourse.

I was wondering what you think are some emerging threats that we aren't paying attention to, but should?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, the -- the big five are the ones I named, that are there right in front of our face.  

ISIL, which we really have to finish off and are going to finish off.  Iran and North Korea -- but Iran, for a long time, so they're not new, but they're still out there.  Every day, we talk about "fight tonight" on the Korea Peninsula every -- I mean, that is not the way we want to do that, but we have to be ready to do that.

And that has been going on, as Admiral McRaven knows for decades and decades, now.

In terms of emerging, I'd say two things.  Two places that I put on –a worry list, but not because I think conflict with them is inevitable or desirable, but because you don't get anything for free in this world.  You have got to work on it.  And they're Russia and China.

Really, the two things to watch, those are two.  And let me say why.

In the case of Russia, for 25 years after the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union collapsed.  Russia, and the United States and the West pretty much got along.  We didn't always see things the same way, but countries don't.

And there wasn't -- but there wasn't conflict and there wasn't behavior by Russia that was concerning in the way that, more recently, the annexation of Crimea would (inaudible) business in eastern Ukraine.  

And so we're finding that in order to make sure that the European security order remains as good as it's been for the last 25 years, we're having to take actions.  Now, they're not actions that we want to have lead to war, but they're actions that bolster strength and make it clear that anybody who picks a fight with the United States is going to regret doing so.

Another one is China, again, not a place we want to have a war with, not a place that we have a history of war with.  But it is a -- one of the key powers of the Asia-Pacific, we being another one.  And the Asia-Pacific is where half of humanity lives and half of the -- of the world's economic activity.  So it's the single place, single part of the world of most consequence to your future.  

Now, let's -- and why this -- you know, you've got that in the headlines, right?  It's not -- why is that?  The critical ingredient of that has been the American military role going way back to World War II.  So that's very important for us to keep up as well.  

So I'd say those two are, in terms of things that if they went wrong, would be of major significance, and we're -- and even though they're not in the newspapers, part of my job is to make sure they don't get in the newspapers.  That's important.  

And then I think the last thing I'd say is yes, we will defeat ISIL, no doubt about it.  But I think those of us who are charged with maintaining human security have to recognize that technology is putting destructive power into the hands of smaller and smaller groups of people all the time, so dealing with that is going to be part of our future.  So as I think about our technological future, I think about our force structure, our training, everything, I know that's going to be part of the portfolio, not ISIL, because we're not going to -- we're going to get rid of them -- but after that, I don't know what -- in what form, I don't know where, I don't know when, but for certain those of us who deal with security are going to find it necessary to deal with that kind of threat, and we need to be one step ahead and make sure that we're strong.  

Q:  Thank you.

Q:  Thank you, sir.  So sort of continuing on the same line of foreign policy, is some of the fighting in the Middle East along ethno-sectarian lines increasing, specifically in Iraq and Syria?  And the border between those two countries collapsing, in the next couple of decades, do you see a possibility for state lines being re- drawn?  And if so, do you have an idea what that would look like?  

SEC. CARTER:  Well it's not -- I'll tell you, it's not -- that's not desirable, and I'll tell you why, Once states start falling apart, it may not have been ideal -- an ideal configuration way back 100 years ago when it was set up that way, but in the example of Iraq, we're basically backing the concept of a multi-sectarian integral Iraqi state as the best alternative to what could happen, which is disintegration, chaos, ethnic cleansing.  And we all know what lies down that road, and we've gotten a taste of it.   
Now that's tough to pull off, and the prime minister of Iraq is trying to pull it off, Prime Minister Abadi, I talk to him all the time.  Very able guy and I think wants to do that.  But it's tough because he has Shiites, he has Sunnis and he has Kurds.  And he has to, therefore, as he puts it, have a decentralized approach to keeping the Iraqi state together.  

But letting it fly apart -- there is danger down that road.  Syria, even more complicated situation, because there has been a civil war going on there for five years.  And what we want in the Syrian civil -- now, ISIL is a separate thing.  We're going to destroy ISIL in both Syria and Iraq, and are doing that now.

But the -- one of the things that gave birth to ISIL was -- the principle thing, really, was the civil war in Syria.  And that is between a large fraction of its population and the government of Assad.

That -- there has to be some end to that civil war and a political resolution there.  I think, once again, the solution that is going to be best in the long run is one that keeps the Syrian state together.  Assad moves aside, the structures of the state -- which after all, undergird everything.

You know, policing, fire protection, education, water, electricity.  Human beings need these things.  You need some structure of governance there.

So, these are not ideal, they were -- these lines were drawn by colonialists, European colonialists many decades ago.  And sometimes, they lump together people who don't naturally get along, and that is awkward.  So, you have to manage all of that.

But the alternative, which is everybody go their own way, that's -- that's going to create a lot of misery in those societies.  And then it -- a lot of spinoff for us, as we have to protect ourselves from all the debris of the disintegration.

STAFF:  We've got time for just a couple of questions from students here.  So, we will take one from a civilian, one from ROTC cadet.

So, the first one is Jake Barnet.

Q:  Secretary Carter, thank you so much for being here today.  My name is Jake Barnet , I'm an undergraduate -- (inaudible) -- Center.

So, you mentioned the threat that China and Russia posed to the global order, and both of these countries historically view themselves as victims of Western aggression.

So, how does the United States avoid having a security dilemma in the South Pacific or in Eastern Europe, where our attempts to secure our partners are viewed as hostile actions.

So, I guess -- how do you find the balance between securing our allies and ensuring that they're -- (inaudible).

SEC. CARTER:  Well, it's a very good question, because as important as it is to be strong and to stand for principles -- like freedom of navigation, like the integrity of the borders of nation-states.  You don't just cross, you don't just take territory and so forth.

So, we need to stand strong, and we will.  Btu it's also important to continue to keep the door open to what is the future that we'd like to have with both of those countries.  You know, the world has got enough problems without the -- some of the largest powers being at each other.

And so, we do and I do always try to put those two thoughts together.  Listen, we're going to stick up for ourselves, and our friends, and our allies and our principles.  But we're not out to get you, either.  

That's not the American approach to security.  The American approach to security is -- has not been a, our way or the highway.  And my evidence for that -- if you say, well, that's fine, you're an American, you say that.

My evidence for that is this:  we have all the friends and allies.  Why is that?  Why is that?  It's because they like working with us.  They like what we stand for.  They find our military very capable and competent and -- that they -- and they conduct themselves very well.

And that's very attractive.  And you have competition in that regard.  Other countries don't have the friends that we have, and I -- to me, that speaks for the American approach, which is we try to create a world in which everybody can follow their own dreams, and we're not trying to tell them which way to go, but there are some principles that everybody benefits from.  

And I think it speaks volumes that we have as many friends and allies with us who join us in that enterprise that we work with every day on security problems around the world.  Huge coalition against ISIL, big group of countries works with us in Afghanistan, NATO alliance, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Philippines, lots of countries wanting to work with us now.  

Vietnam, for example, where, needless to say, we had -- didn't have an uncomplicated history with.  So we stand for something, and it's important to continue to stand for that, but it's also important to emphasize to those who -- whose behavior is challenging hey look, nobody's out to get you here, but we have to stand tall when it comes to our principles and our friends, nevermind our own selves.  

STAFF:  A question from one of our cadets.  Here we go.

Q:  Sir, Cadet Wright, Air Force ROTC.  My question for you is you mentioned how we're going to defeat ISIL, and what I was curious about is whether or not you had some specific criteria that needs to be met before you're satisfied that we're mission complete in the elimination of ISIL.  

SEC. CARTER:  Yeah, I do.  It takes the following things.  First and foremost and absolutely necessary but not sufficient, is to defeat them in Syria and Iraq, and that means a number of things, but importantly, it means taking away from them the cities of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq and thereby making it plain to all that there is not going to be a state based upon this ideology.  So that's -- but that is necessary.  

It's not going to be sufficient -- by the way, that needs to be followed by -- to get back to an earlier question -- governance there that can keep terrorism defeated.  You know, we can -- we can enable the defeat of terrorism but somebody's got to govern this place afterwards.  And that's a whole other challenge, and we're working on that too.  

But we also know, second, that ISIL has -- I talk about, like a cancer has metastasized, pops up a little bit in Afghanistan, a little bit in Libya, a little bit here and there, and we're going to need to defeat it in those places as well.  Each of them is a somewhat different context and a different history -- to get back to an earlier question -- but we've got to go after them.  

And then finally, we have to protect our own country both from the possibility of attacks that are directed by the outside or simply inspired in -- somebody who's lost their way and looking at the internet and gets -- and that happens.  And we need to protect ourselves against that as well.  

Now, I'm confident we can do all that, and we're going to do all that in addition to everything else we need to do to protect ourselves.  We're that good, we will do it.  But it's going to take a lot of effort, and we're looking every day to do more because we want to accelerate that process, particularly the defeat of ISIL in Syria and Iraq.  

STAFF:  All right.  Well, the secretary has a busy schedule today, so please stand and join me in a warm round of applause.  

(Applause.)

SEC. CARTER:  Thank you.  Great to be with you.  Thank you.  Very good questions.