WASHINGTON, March 30, 2016 —
The Defense Department’s future course is competitive and demanding of America's leadership, values and the military’s edge, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said here yesterday at the World Affairs Council's Annual Honors Global Education Gala.
“But in our overall approach and also in our budget … we're taking the long view as well as the near-term view,” the secretary said. “We have to, because even as we fight today's fights, we must also be prepared for what might come, 10, 20, 30 years down the road.”
As the gala’s keynote speaker, Carter addressed a broad group of defense leaders, wounded service members, educators, members of corporate and nonprofit organizations and ambassadors from more than 75 nations, including the United Kingdom, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Ukraine.
“It's good to see so many ambassadors here,” Carter said. “Your presence represents the deep friendships that the United States has with so many countries around the world,” he said.
The World Affairs Council honored Carter with its International Public Service Award, and he said he accepted on behalf of the “magnificent” U.S. service members who continue the nation’s great legacy of service.
Carter said that as he spoke, 450,000 American men and women are deployed across the globe in every time zone, domain, and in the air, on shores and afloat, who answered the call of the noblest of missions -- to provide security.
Earlier in the day, Carter and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald laid a wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
Carter thanked veterans of all eras in the audience, and emphasized his appreciation for those who served in Vietnam, noting “special thanks that was not properly rendered when they first came home.”
He also pointed out recent Medal of Honor recipient retired Army Capt. Florent A. Groberg, who “represents the highest caliber of individuals who have helped defend our nation and what we all stand for, [including more than] 15 years in Iraq and also Afghanistan,” he said.
A Nation with Great Responsibilities
The United States is a great nation with great responsibilities, the secretary said, adding, “In this interconnected world, we can't afford to ignore ... the challenges of our friends and allies together.”
Carter said the defense department’s national defense strategy and the recently submitted defense budget request reflects the need for the nation to confront five evolving challenges: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and terrorism in overall terms.
“We don't have the luxury of choice among these,” he said.” We have to do them all.”
Carter said the United States is taking a strong and balanced approach in Europe to deter Russian aggression, an issue the nation has not had to address in about 25 years, he added.
The Asia-Pacific region is the single most consequential region to America's future, because it contains half the world’s population and economic activity, he said. And while China is on the rise in the region, it also is “behaving aggressively.”
North Korea and Iran remain two longstanding challenges, Carter said, noting that despite the nuclear accord with Iran, “We must still deter Iranian aggression and malign influence against our allies and friends.”
But posing a different and important challenge is the fight against terrorism, and specifically, ISIL, Carter said.
“Last week's attacks in Brussels are a grim reminder of the dangers and the challenges that persist in this world,” he said.
Accelerating ISIL’s Defeat
While the U.S.-led coalition accelerates the campaign to deal ISIL a lasting defeat -- most immediately in Iraq and Syria -- the campaign is picking up momentum as the extremist organization metastasizes in other nations such as Africa and Afghanistan, the secretary said.
The reality is “we're bringing more and more power to bear against ISIL,” he said.
“We're systematically eliminating [ISIL’s] cabinet,” Carter said, “killing their financial chief and eliminating their minister of war just in the last two weeks.”
And while Iraqi security forces are advancing “in all directions” against ISIL fighters, the coalition is working with local, capable and motivated forces to collapse ISIL's control, he added.
Expanding Technology, Innovation
To succeed in the national defense mission, the United States needs strategic perspective, budget stability and the ability to “think outside of the [Pentagon’s] five-sided box,” and foster a spirit of innovation and reform at every level, Carter said.
To do so, he said, DoD is making increased investments in science and technology, innovations in military operations and building new bridges to keep America’s technology industry ahead of tomorrow's threats.
One partner initiative offers those in the private sector to engage with DoD and contribute to its mission, Carter explained.
“We, at the Department of Defense, want to give citizens the opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves, [by] helping provide security by bringing ideas and perspective to the table,” he said.
Force of the Future
A critical element of maintaining the military’s edge is competing to recruit and retain and develop good people in an all-volunteer force, Carter said, noting, “[It’s] what I call the Force of the Future.”
And as a critical part of the Force of the Future, Carter recently opened combat positions to women, which also gives access to more of the population, he said, noting “As good as America's technology is, it's nothing compared to our people.”
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)