SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you very much.
Thank you, and a special thanks to Specialist Bartlett for his introduction. His prospects I would believe are far brighter than mine were when I was here in 1969, but he may have an opportunity to get a real job one of these days.
I want to thank you all for coming, taking a little bit of your time today. But most importantly, I want to thank you for your support and your friendship.
I can't think of anything better to do with my afternoon every Wednesday than coming to Omaha and saying hello to old friends, and being part of a community that I feel very close to.
But I have to tell you that even though every day when I go to work at the Pentagon, I'm still close to Nebraskans and they surround me everywhere. And in the interest of these three Nebraskans that I want to mention, it's about their parents, because I know parents are proud of their children and they should be.
So I'm going to recognize three Nebraskans who work very closely with me. And in particular, I want to acknowledge their parents. Derek Chollet, who serves as our assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs -- a big, big job; travels with me around the world. He's a graduate of Lincoln Southeast High School. And his mom and dad, B.J. and Ray live in Lincoln. So to the Chollets, thank you for Derek. He's doing a great job. He has no time to get in trouble. (Laughter.)
And I know you're reassured of that.
Brian Glenn, a country desk officer -- who is more than a country desk officer -- who works very closely with me on Middle East issues. And I don't have to tell any of you how important and complicated and challenging the Middle East is for this country and the world right now. So he is a big part of this.
Brian also from Omaha, his parents Brian and Pennie live here. He also has a brother Patrick who is here at UNO, and as far as I know he's in good standing. (Laughter.)
And he's got no problems. Chris Kolenda, in fact I think he may be on his way out of the country right now to Afghanistan. He's a retired Army colonel, who I met years ago when I was a senator in Afghanistan, and one of the really significant and most impressive young officers that I ever came across.
And so when I ended up at the Pentagon, I was not surprised that he was such -- playing such a special role as special adviser to the White House, to the president and to me on Afghanistan. His parents, David and Joanne, still live here.
So, to all the parents, thank you. I'm grateful for your three sons and how you shaped them and the contributions they're making to this country. And of course to B.J. Reed and John and all of the team here, thank you for what you continue to do for this community, and our state, and our country and the courtesies you've shown me over the years.
So to all the -- the UNO team, thank you and it's really good to be back with you.
Also, as Secretary of Defense, when I leave the country. I fly in a very, very large airplane. (Laughter.)
And, the people who run that -- that airplane and who fly it and who assure security and communications, as you all know, live here in this community. They live in Bellevue, and Papillion and Omaha, and they are assigned to Offut, and in particular Major Jon Grossrhode, who was a UNO graduate, is one of the pilots. In fact, he was one of the pilots on my recent trip to Singapore and to Brussels. So, to that crew, for getting me up and getting me down safely and the contributions they continue to make to this country, thank you.
Governor Heineman, thank you for your personal welcome today. I see two former very distinguished members of Congress representing this state. One for many years, Congressman Doug Bereuter and Louise, wonderful to see both of you. Former United States Senator Dave Karnes.
Dave, great to see you and thank you for stopping by here earlier today. And to each of you, thank you for the service you've rendered to this state and to this country.
Obviously, all of our men and women who are here in uniform, thank you for what you do and for your continued contributions.
And last, I want to go back to UNO just for a moment to acknowledge their husbanding the archives of my 12 years in the Senate and the kind of work that they are doing. It has nothing really to do with me. I was, just as Dave and Doug know, a passing steward on the scene at a very interesting time in our world and in history. And those 12 years of archives represent 12 of the most defining years of our country, post-World War II.
I got to the Senate, as you all know, and most everybody here helped me get there, twice, in January 1997, and I left in January 2009. And you think of what happened in those 12 years in the world, in this country. So I think that the use of those archives as they are developing them for research and history and getting some dimension of what was going on, on the inside at that time will be useful to future generations.
I was thinking the other day, I'm not sure what's exactly in those... (Laughter.)
Five-hundred boxes of files. I know they're a lot of personal notes to -- to me and from me. But I'll leave that to my children, and I'll be dead and they're on their own. They'll have to -- (Laughter.) -- they'll have to deal with whatever their crazy father said during those 12 years.
But that was not a small task for them to take on, and I appreciate it. And -- and if I don't screw this job up, maybe they'll have more interesting boxes to go through, in addition to those 12 years in the Senate.
I think most of you know this story, but let me set a little context to this institution for me. And then I want to share some thoughts with you about the kind of world that I think we're living in, and the kind of world that I think we're going to be dealing with for some time to come, and what that's going to require of our country and our leadership and our citizens, and all of our institutions.
My wife, Lilibet, who is here, along with my brother Mike, know these stories. In fact, they helped write these stories. And my brother, Mike and Tom were there at the beginning. And the 28 years that Lilibet and I have been married have been part of that -- that story. So, I begin here.
It was 44 years ago that my brother Tom and I enrolled here at UNO soon after returning from Vietnam. And we were very proud UNO graduates, both of us.
Now, I attended college before my service in the Army. Actually, I attended three colleges. (Laughter.)
And it was in the best interest of all three of those excellent institutions for me to leave, I think. But, nonetheless, I didn't reenter college after Vietnam without having some appreciation of the not exactly exhilarating experiences I had in the previous three. But at UNO, Tom and I were welcomed and embraced, and Tom had just started college. He went into the Army right after he graduated from high school. I think it was less than 30 days after he graduated from high school, he was on a bus on his way to Fort Bliss, Texas, Garden Squad in the summer during basic training, as many of you know.
In those days, UNO was -- Specialist Bartlett noted this -- along with the University of Maryland, one of the two preeminent bootstrap colleges in the country. And that reputation has carried through all -- all these years.
So, we came to this camp as having witnessed, like all Vietnam veterans who were here at the time and followed us -- were here before us -- witnessing the hard truths of war. And coming out of that experience, the support UNO offered Tom and me, and other veterans -- all veterans -- helped us focus, and think about our futures. And it helped us find our own centers of gravity.
Today, another generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines from distant battlefields are doing the same here at UNO. And they, too, have found a welcoming community at UNO with more than 1,100 active duty military personnel here at UNO today, and many, many veterans currently enrolled.
And last November, it was my privilege to join in the dedication of UNO's new military Veterans University Services Office. And I helped open that office last Veterans Day. And I know they are very proud of that office and the work that they are doing.
They provide very comprehensive support for our veterans and their families. And UNO continues to be a national leader in military and veterans education.
And today, by the way -- many of you know this -- UNO took another significant step and announced that it is waving application fees for military and veteran students. That's a big deal. (Applause.)
And these support programs will only grow in importance as more troops transition into civilian life as we bring America's longest conflict, the war in Afghanistan, to a conclusion.
Yesterday in Kabul, in a ceremony presided over by President Karzai and attended by the secretary general of NATO, the government of Afghanistan formally assumed the lead responsibility for security nationwide. This is the first time that's happened in 12 years of U.S. and international involvement in Afghanistan. And many men and women here in this audience today know about that because you were there and you were a part of that.
And it keeps us on track to responsibly end the war next year in Afghanistan and allows us to transition to a far more limited, non-combat mission to assist the Afghan government as it takes full responsibility for the country's future.
The United States and the international community will continue to be engaged in Afghanistan and we will continue working with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to advance security in that critically -- critically important region in the world.
Going forward, our engagement in Afghanistan will demand less from our military because we will be transitioning to a train, advise and assist mission. There will also be a greater role for institutions like UNO's Center for Afghanistan Studies, which has played such a unique role in helping forge strong links between the United States and Afghanistan for more than 40 years.
Under the leadership of my friend, Tom Gouttierre, the center has helped coordinate training for more than 3,000 Afghan educators and distributed 15 million textbooks since 9/11, among many other important activities.
Its contributions have made a tangible difference in the lives of the Afghan people. As the United States military winds down from two wars, it is by necessity undergoing a global transition like we are in Afghanistan. That process is being accelerated by a rapidly shifting and increasingly complicated security environment in the world and the reality of reduced resources for our Defense Department budget.
Today I want to talk a little bit about that strategic transition, the challenges and opportunities it presents and the implications for our future.
The United States has been engaged in sustained conflict for nearly 12 years. During this period the rest of the world has not stood still. In fact, it has been changing at an incalculable and unprecedented rate. The forces that are reshaping our world include the rising importance of Asia; the outbreak of revolution and sectarian conflict across the Middle East and North Africa; the continuing impact of the financial crisis and the recessions in Europe; the astounding diffusion of global economic power; the rise of China, India, Brazil and other nations; and the role of technology in closely linking the world's people and their aspirations and their economies. Never before have we seen anything like this.
And these shifts are all interconnected. For example, while the Arab Spring was fundamentally about the grievances citizens have and held against their governments, it grew in magnitude, intensity and organization because of the wide availability of technology which enabled millions of people to communicate instantaneously in a new public spirit. This changed everything.
Twenty-first century trends like the growth of technology represent new opportunities, but they also represent more uncertainty and certainly more risks to the United States, our allies, global peace, prosperity and security.
We live in a world where our homeland is vulnerable to cyber attackers who can strike from anywhere in the world, where states like North Korea seek to develop missiles capable of hitting American soil, and where extremist groups like Hezbollah possess a more deadly arsenal of weapons than many nations.
Another example's Syria. The conflict there is complex, unpredictable and very combustible. It has now claimed more than 900,000 lives. [SIC: 90,000] It is developed along dangerous sectarian lines, exposing deep historical, religious, and ethnic differences and complications. In this fluid and dynamic situation there are consequences for U.S. policy decisions, both for action and inaction.
These consequences are all being weighed carefully by President Obama and the National Security Council in light of America's strategic interests and our capacity and our limits to help shape events not only in Syria, but in the region.
Another complex foreign policy challenge is Iran, which last week held a presidential election. The United States has made clear that if Iran's new president is interested in mending Iran's relations with the rest of the world, as he indicated in his campaign, there is an opportunity to do that.
If Iran lives up to its obligations on its nuclear program and the U.N. Security Council resolutions, it will find a partner in the United States. But the United States remains committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and all options remain on the table to achieve this outcome.
Far from the Persian Gulf but no less vexing a challenge is the dangerous and disruptive path being pursued by North Korea. The United States has taken all necessary steps to protect our homeland and our allies from North Korea's dangerous provocations, including significantly bolstering our missile defense throughout the Pacific.
The United States looks forward to one day, maybe, having a credible engagement with North Korea, and possibly negotiations with North Korea. But these talks first depend on North Korea living up to its obligations to the international community, and their actions to accomplish the complete and verifiable de-nuclearization of the peninsula.
North Korea will be judged by its actions, not its words. All of the new challenges I've noted in the broader realities of the 21st Century are testing our modern defense enterprise, which was largely designed to meet Cold War needs.
Responding to new threats, new challenges, and new opportunities will require us to undertake major adjustments in our strategic thinking and planning. This will require seriously questioning past frames of reference as we prioritize our national interests, and we prepare our country for the future.
To respond to this necessary effort, our military is undertaking a series of important shifts that reflect changing geopolitical dynamics, new threats, new technologies, and new fiscal realities.
The first major shift is our renewed emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region. Earlier this month I traveled to Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue and explain the U.S. commitment to rebalancing its strategic focus on this critical part of the world.
We are undertaking this rebalancing because of the region's growing importance to America's future security and prosperity, and because of the essential role that the United States has played, continues to play in helping ensure peace and stability in this part of the world.
America has always been a Pacific power. The rebalance engages America's relationships with countries across the region, including rising powers like China, India, and Indonesia. The rise of these nations will help shape the 21st century.
Nations of the world have an interest in building a world order based on strong economic ties, mutual security interests, and respect for rules, norms, and institutions that underpin them, and human rights.
The U.S. continues to have interests across the globe. The Asia-Pacific rebalance is not a retreat from other regions of the world, but rather a reflection of changing strategic realities that direct increased engagement in Asia and Pacific.
In Asia and beyond, our approach to security in the 21st century is to strengthen alliances, build new partnerships, and forge coalitions of common interests that help resolve problems and hopefully prevent conflict.
We are doing this in Europe through our renewed commitment to the NATO alliance, and in the Middle East, and Latin America. All of these regions will help define the world's future.
America is employing a lighter military footprint approach to enhance defense cooperation, and the capabilities of allies through military engagements, joint exercises, and other activities that build partnerships.
These involve capabilities in the special operations forces and our general purpose forces.
This approach also enables us to respond to crises more quickly and effectively.
The United States will maintain its capacity to meet -- meet its commitments and deter aggression.
At the same time, the most sustainable and wisest approach to our security in the 21st century will be to help allies do more to contribute to their own security and our common interests.
When I was in Singapore, I visited the U.S.S. Freedom, the first littoral combat ship which is deployed along the Singapore Strait. The sailors of the U.S.S Freedom are helping patrol their strategic waterway through joint exercises with Singapore and other nations, as they all help increase the capabilities of each other to secure this vital waterline.
As the U.S. rebalances its strategic forces toward the Asia-Pacific region, the Department of Defense is rebalancing its portfolio of military capabilities to meet new technological challenges, especially in cyberspace.
Malicious cyber attacks, which hardly registered as a threat a decade ago, are quickly becoming a defining security challenge for our time, for all our institutions.
They are putting America's economic and technological advantages and our industrial base at risk. And they threaten our critical infrastructure.
Adding to the complexities of cyberspace is the challenge of identifying where a cyber attack is coming from, or who initiated it. Attribution is not impossible, but it is not as simple as identifying a navy sailing across the ocean or an army crossing a border to attack you. This is a fundamentally different, more insidious kind of threat than we've ever seen. One that carries with it a great risk of miscalculation and mistake.
It is also not only a threat to the United States, but to every country that depends on cyberspace for communications, commerce and development.
Part of the answer to the cyber threat is working through and with international forums of common interests, and developing a common approach with all nations.
Still, compared to our conventional military edge, which remains overwhelming and unrivalled, our nation is dangerously exposed to cyberspace attacks. And DOD has a responsibility to defend our nation, and that extends to cyberspace. For this reason, the Department of Defense must continue to increase its cyber capabilities.
The president and I asked for an increase in our cyber capabilities in the 2014 budget that I presented at Congress the last two months. We will do this even as we pare back forestructure in almost all other areas where the military has excess capacity measured against the real world threats of today.
Earlier today in Berlin, President Obama announced the results of a two-year review of the size and the mission of our nuclear forces. General Bob Kehler, commander STRATCOM [U.S. Strategic Command], who you all know, was heavily involved in this review. He found that in a world with nuclear weapons, a credible nuclear deterrent remains essential to peace and security, as it has since the end of World War II. But it also found that we can sustain the credibility of our deterrent with fewer deployed strategic nuclear weapons. Therefore, the United States will pursue negotiated reductions with Russia of up to one third of the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons allowed under the new START [Strategic Arms Reduction] Treaty.
This guidance has my strong support, as well as the strong support of General Kehler and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff.
As we pursue these reductions, let me emphasize three things. Three things that will not change.
First, the U.S. will maintain a ready and credible deterrent. Second, we will retain a triad of bombers, ICBMs [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile], and ballistic missile submarines. Third, we will make sure that our nuclear weapons remain safe, secure, ready and effective.
One of my goals in coming to Omaha this week is to discuss with General Kehler how we will carry this out and achieve these objectives. Even in an era of declining resources, President Obama has invested substantially in the nuclear enterprise. DOD will continue to make these investments in order to sustain our weapons and delivery systems and ensure that we retain the expert personnel. Some here today, who are critical to making this enterprise successful.
All of this very much resides right down the road at Strategic Command. A safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent remains essential to our national security, and we will maintain that capability.
That brings me to another shift now under way at the Department of Defense which is being driven by new fiscal realities. For several years DOD has been preparing for an inevitable downturn in defense spending. But a combination of fiscal pressures and a gridlocked political process has led to far more abrupt, deeper and steeper reductions than expected or planned for. Now DOD is grappling with the serious, immediate challenge of sequester, which is forcing us to take on an additional $37 billion cut this fiscal year, which ends the end of September.
The immediacy of these cuts is what makes them most difficult to deal with because they leave DOD with very little flexibility. If it continues, sequester will reduce projected defense spending by another $52 billion next year and $500 billion over the next decade.
Now, this is in addition to the $487 billion 10-year reduction agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011 that DOD is currently implementing. This has produced unprecedented uncertainty.
Earlier this year I directed a strategic choices and management review. Its purpose is to develop choices, options and priorities to deal with and plan for further reductions -- further reductions in the defense budget as we prioritize the matching of our strategic interests and missions with the resources that will be required to carry them out.
The department must understand the challenges and uncertainties, plan for the risks, and, yes, recognize there are opportunities inherent in budget constraints.
These opportunities can produce more efficient and effective policies, structures, operations and systems. The strategic choices and management review has concluded its initial work, and I along with General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the entire military and civilian leadership of the department (inaudible) in the process of evaluating the options that have emerged.
Much more hard work, difficult decisions and strategic prioritizing remains to be done in the weeks and months ahead.
If we are to preserve our military combat power and readiness, which is the core, which is the essential part of our Department of Defense and what I must protect beyond all other elements of our Department of Defense, we still must make critical investments in a 21st century defense strategy, and deep political institution opposition to these management reforms and the restructurings will have to be engaged head on and overcome.
We cannot continue to support and fund infrastructure we do not need, especially as we bring down our forces and a new set of threats is emerging for this country. These include achieving savings in areas like infrastructure, overhead and cutting lower priority platforms. It also means controlling the growth of spending on military compensation, which makes up about half of DOD's entire budget.
As we do so, we must reassure the bright and patriotic young men and women who joined the military that they will be fairly compensated, trained and regarded as the professionals they are, and they will be given opportunities for career and personal enhancement. And they must be assured that their families will be taken care of.
Ultimately, the goal of all the efforts I described today is to ensure that the United States military remains in balance and America remains secure and strong. We must maintain balance and strategic priorities, alliances, military capabilities and defense spending. But there is one final area where balance must be achieved, and that is between America's military and its other instruments of national power.
America's military is an indispensable element of our power. But most of the pressing security challenges America faces today also have political, economic and cultural components, and do not necessarily leave themselves to being resolved by military force. Over reliance on military power is a misguided and dangerous policy. A strong, agile and ready military must be used judiciously and with a keen appreciation for its limits.
We should remember President Reagan's observation in the early 1980s. That of the four wars he witnessed in his lifetime, none came about because the United States was too strong. We cannot let our military strength atrophy either in this very dangerous world. But that will require wise leadership capable of making tough strategic decisions.
The challenges and threats I've described today are making the world more complex. This is at a time when its seven billion global citizens are being brought together in a way never before seen, closer together than at any time in human history. And as our planet adds another two billion people over the next 25 years, the dangers, complications and human demands -- human demands will not be lessened but rather heightened. Despite these challenges, we have a historic opportunity to help build a safer, more prosperous, more secure, more hopeful and yes, more just world. But doing so will demand strong, wise and steady leadership in the United States of America. A smart use of all our nation's great power and recognition of our limitations.
If the U.S. can be successful, and I believe that we can be and I believe we will be, along with nations of the world as our partners, we can build a new world just as we built a new world after World War II. But there is little margin of error. Peace and security in the 21st century depend on our leaders possessing the kind of far sighted and common sense vision that enable men such as Harry Truman, General George Marshall and Dwight David Eisenhower to sustain our nation after World War II.
It also depends on the ability of our nation to adapt to new threats and opportunities. The world is changing and America's national security structure including our military must change with it. How America responds to the challenges of this new world will direct our future.
Tomorrow I will visit the headquarters of U.S. Strategic Command. Its mission remains critical and relevant as does the former Strategic Air Command's founding motto, "Peace is our profession." The profession of arms is still the profession of peace. What distinguishes the United States military is not its power; it is its purpose and commitment to making a better life for all people.
America is a just, thoughtful and steady nation, worthy of its power, generous of its spirit and still committed to the profession of peace in a complex yet hopeful 21st century.
Thank you. (Applause.)
Thank you. Be glad to respond to questions, comments, advice. If I owe any of you any of you any money, let me know.
Dr. Feldman, professor, nice to see you again.
Q: During the confirmation hearings, I thought you were very unjustly criticized regarding matters in the Middle East. (Applause.)
Q: What do you see now as the future in that part of the world?
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you, Dick. I always appreciated our friendship and your -- your support.
I wish I was smart enough to give you a good answer, I'm not. I referred to it generally in my comments as you recall.
It is a very complicated part of the world, probably as complicated as any part of the world. Many of you spent a long time over there know a lot about it. I've been there many, many times, visited every country in the Middle East except Iran, but it doesn't mean I know anything about anything. But I do turn my antennas up, and I turn my receivers on, and occasionally try to turn my transmitters off, and I know for a former senator, that's difficult.
But if you don't listen and observe, you can't learn much.
I think there's some opportunities, Dick, to work our way through all of this, with the other partners in the Middle East, but a couple of things have to come together, and I think we're going to be living with this uncertainty for a while.
And I referenced Syria in my remarks. What we must do in every way we can and what we're trying to do, what the president has talked about so far in his focus -- and he's right I think on this -- is to assure that this problem in Syria doesn't totally break down and we see the disintegration of Syria.
And if Syria would implode, Iran, Hezbollah, Al-Nusra, al-Qaeda, many bad forces are in play there. Plus the sectarian war that's clearly in play. Probably that sectarian war line starts in Beirut, goes through Damascus right into Baghdad. There's a civil war going on at the same time.
They're all three distinct - the civil war, sectarian war, as well as to some extent, a proxy war, and you have the Russians in this.
And what we must do, I think, with every instrument of power we have and alliance we have -- and Secretary Kerry has been working with the Russians on this to try to move this to higher ground of diplomacy -- difficult, uncertain -- is to try to get some process working that at least stops the violence and the bloodshed and the war, and then start working our way through that to managing it to some higher ground.
Now the Palestinian-Israeli peace is on a different track. I think we need to continue to pursue that. That's difficult. Egypt's going through a very uncertain time. I was in the Middle East about a month and a half ago, visited all those countries again. I think there are some hopeful signs.
But I think we've got to realize what the people of that area have had to endure for so long. This isn't going to get fixed in a year, or under one president, or any American policy. This is going to get eventually resolved through a number of channels, working with allies, working with interests. It'll be imperfect. I'll be raggedy, but you don't need to get it exactly right. You need to get it just right enough.
What I was saying to someone the other day about my job. I'll go, "I'll never know enough about this job, but what I don't what to happen, is I don't want to screw up the big decisions."
And I think that's the way you have to come at these things. Try not to screw up the big decisions. Try to get all of the big decisions right. You'll never get it all right. Can't get it all right, because as I said in my remarks, we're limited. Our ability to shape that part of the world has severe limitations. We can't do it alone.
So I know that's kind of a wide-ranging, meandering answer that's not as concise as you'd like it, but I think it's that complicated, and I think it's that far ranging.
But I have to tell you, I am somewhat hopeful that through all of this, something can be produced. And if history is instructive, and it is, then we can rely on some of that, even though these are different times, different dynamics. But we've got no choice. Working with our allies and especially our partners in that part of the world.
We have to continue to work at this. It's frustrating. It's difficult, and I know that. But as I mentioned here, balance, in my statement -- balance. We've got to balance this in a way that's realistic and doable.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
SEC. HAGEL: They're going to bring you I think, a (inaudible)
Q: I'm sure I speak for everyone here: How utterly proud we of you.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. (Applause.)
Q: At some time in the past World Herald (inaudible) where I said there are no two more qualified people to be president of the United States in Chuck Hagel and Joe Biden. I called it the Chuck and Joe Show. (Laughter.)
I'm wondering how it is to work with him. You're both right up there next to the president. Thank God you're there. How's it working with Joe Biden? (Laughter.)
SEC. HAGEL: Well, this is being recorded, so... (Laughter.)
Tom, thank you for your service over many, many years in the diplomatic corps, and we appreciate that very much.
Well, as you all know, I think -- at least some of you; and I have some of my former senior staff members here who propped me up for 12 years, first got me elected and then literally propped me up -- Lou Ann Linehan, my chief of staff, campaign manager, the legendary Lou Ann Linehan is here; Tommy Janssen, who is the first person that Lou Ann and I hired in 1995. Rob Owen I think was second. They had some of the toughest jobs.
Todd Wilson's here somewhere.
I mean, there're a number of my former staff, who are in the front row, as well. And I didn't just bring their names up to have them answer the question -- (Laughter.) -- which I got away with for 12 years. But I'm biased, as they know. That's the reason I noted some of them who worked with me for so long, very biased about Joe Biden.
And Joe Biden is one of the most human, honest, decent human beings I've ever -- ever worked with in my life in any job I've ever had.
If you look at Joe Biden's voting record and my voting record, they're about as far apart as you could get, except on -- on the issues of foreign policy and national security. And that used to be a line that parties didn't cross.
Now, since I'm not in that business anymore I won't go any further, as I've had now my Department of Defense staff waving flags. (Laughter.)
"Get him off the stage before..."
He's one of the truly most informed people I've ever -- ever dealt with, and partly because he's smart. But I know a lot of smart people, and you all do too, and I wouldn't want them near power. (Laughter.)
That's not necessarily a qualifier, being smart. Common sense.
Joe came up a pretty hard way. Now, that doesn't mean that he's any better than anybody else. He had to overcome a lot of things. And I trust him on -- I just trust who he is. And he's fun to work with. He's very serious and he's very tough. And it's a pleasure.
You know, someone reminded me the other day, Tom, that -- they said -- it was probably the first ever in our history that the president of the United States, the vice president and the secretary of state and secretary of defense all served together on the same committee at the same time in the United States Senate. And we all did, all four of us served together in the Foreign Relations Committee. So we know each other pretty well. And it's kind of like, in some ways, a family. And when you know somebody too well that probably -- (Laughter.) -- you surely are honest.
And my brother Mike sitting here, he can attest to brothers and sisters how they get along very well and everything. But that's the way it should be, because the president needs differences in opinion. He -- this president seeks those differences of opinion out and studies them, and Joe is a -- I think a great team with the president.
And I think America can be very proud of that team, by the way, I really do. And I -- I know (Applause.)
I know you say, 'Well, he's supposed to say that. He has to say it. The president nominated -- he's not gonna get up and say anything less.' No. But I just wouldn't have to say anything.
But you asked me about Biden, so that's a quick snapshot. It's a privilege to work with him, and this country is well-served having him in that job. Joe never stops.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I'm Anne Gentle, an alum here from UNO.
And my family and I have hosted many of the (inaudible) teachers who came over to study. So Afghanistan is not just a place on a map, it's a country filled with (inaudible) that we care about a great deal.
Some of whom taught underground during the Taliban. And though I haven't talked to them today, I want to ask a simple question that I think they would ask if they were here.
And it's about negotiating with the Taliban when they suggest they might be interested in peace talks. And President Karzai says, ‘you're not going to do it without me.’ I'm just curious to know what you think is -- how much is posing and bluff? And what our goal would be if Karzai -- President Karzai really does say, we're not going to deal with the U.S. in this negotiation?
SEC. HAGEL: Very good question. And I think most of you know that announcement was made in Qatar yesterday that Taliban has opened an office in Qatar. We've supported that. We've always supported a peaceful resolution to the end of the bloodshed in the war in Afghanistan.
It has to be on the right terms. And we have those terms. But the United States in this situation is open to the possibility of a next set of meetings. I think it's worth the risk. But it can't be done without President Karzai, without the government of Afghanistan, because it's the people of Afghanistan that sometimes in this big power politics game.
And many have read that great book "The Great Game," which is the best book I've ever read on Afghanistan and the Middle East. We tend occasionally to forget this is really about the people, or it should be, giving the people of Afghanistan, those teachers that you talked about, rights and freedom to make their own lives.
And if that's not what we were there about all this time, then we're going to have to take a really serious look in what our policies have been. I mean, it's obvious why we went to Afghanistan, I think everybody knows, when we did.
I was in the first delegation of members of Congress to go into Afghanistan in January of 2002. We had been there two months. And so it's about the people, the elected government of Afghanistan is the Karzai government.
Now I've dealt with President Karzai right from the beginning. I've known him since 2001 and have a very good relationship with him. But he represents his government, his people. He needs to do what he thinks is right.
That sometimes for us is a bit frustrating. But we have to continue to work at it. And we will continue to work at it. But any kind of a next set of meetings that would involve the United States, certainly we're a long way from any negotiations, would require the Taliban to agree to certain things.
That can't be done, won't be done without President Karzai and the people of Afghanistan. I noted in my remarks that a couple of days ago a rather significant event happened there. And that was the milestone 2013 event in Afghanistan.
The NATO secretary general came to represent the 50 nations, by the way, that represent the International Security Force in Afghanistan. Now we are the big, huge, main part of that, absolutely.
But to turn over this formally to the Afghan police, government, and army, that's a pretty big deal. Now the question asked to me, which is a legitimate question, but we just had four of our Americans killed yesterday, and four wounded.
We are still at war. We are still at war. And we'll, I suspect, be at war -- we're transitioning out, but isn't it smarter, isn't it worth some risk, if the terms are right, to try to facilitate some agreement here that would stop this and give the poor people of Afghanistan some opportunity to not to have to live in constant war that they've had to live in for decades?
I think it is worth the risk. We're clear-eyed about it. We're steady about it. We understand it. But any engagement carries with it considerable risk. So we'll see. But I think we have to continue to work it. And it can't be done without the government of Afghanistan.
Q: (OFF-MIKE) (Laughter.)
SEC. HAGEL: I thought you'd gone home, George, but I -- that's George Little. He's the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. And he's not always a nice guy, either. (Laughter.)
I have been blessed, by the way, as I have been all my life and in the Senate with the absolute -- surrounded by the absolute best people that you could be surrounded with. And I start in this new job with the fact that I don't know how you could have a more significant privilege than to lead three million people in uniform, civilians who've dedicated their lives to the security of this country and to a higher purpose than any other purpose.
Now, that opportunity, privilege doesn't come very often to very many people, and I'm aware of that every morning I walk up those steps to my office. And I turn around and I look back down the river and look at the Capitol. And I -- I'm never without that thought in my mind.
And the other thing -- I'm not filibustering, George -- the other thing I always remember, and I used to say it in the Senate, as Lou Ann and Tom and -- when I was -- I questioned some of our policies over the last few years. There's only one question that a policymaker should ever ask about committing a nation to war: Is the sacrifice worthy of the men and women that we ask to make that sacrifice? Is that policy worthy of them?
If you can't answer that question or if you equivocate, then you better not do it. Because that -- that means it's not worth it, it's not the right thing to do to put men and women in those positions.
Because our military will do what they're asked to do for the security of this country. They're built that way. That's the profession they chose, and they do it. They give us their -- their advice as they must give us their advice, we need their advice. But in the end, once the policy is set they do it. But we better make damn sure it's worth their sacrifice.
So I say that -- thank you (inaudible). (Applause.)
OK, so who has a -- way up in the back there.
You're not a member of the Taliban are you...
Q: Mr. Secretary, I'm Robin Gandhi. I'm an assistant professor at UNO.
You -- earlier in your talk you alluded to nuclear weapons as an effective deterrent. What are your thoughts on using cyber capabilities and cyber weapons as also a deterrence mechanism?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, all of our instruments of -- of power are in some way a deterrence. A calculation made by any nation or any terrorist group, any group that wants to attack our country or do harm to any of us has to calculate our deterrence capability.
And -- and one of the things that we have had since World War II unequivocally -- and this is something we have to be very careful that we protect, and is part of what I was generally alluding to in my comments about budget cuts -- is the superiority of -- of the air.
Our -- our military technological edge in the air has been unprecedented and -- and almost unchallenged.
Now, the Soviets had a big Air Force. But our capability was far superior, whether that was satellites. And now the world that -- we're living in the cyber world -- intelligence, reconnaissance, that directs, as the intelligence always has directed (inaudible) directed any wars, but that really now directs everything -- drones, different instruments of power that we didn't have 20 years ago -- 10 years ago.
So the cyber capability is -- is not untethered from that and what that capability is. But nations must know that we have considerable deterrent ability, capability to deter any kind of attack on -- on this country.
So that new sphere of warfare -- because we've got satellites that need to be protect. I mean, everything runs by computer, our ships do, our banks do, every -- everybody knows that. You start knocking on infrastructure of a country, you don't need fire a shot, you paralyze a country. You paralyze command and control of your military. You wipe out bank accounts. I mean things as maybe mundane as all the traffic lights go out in big cities. Well big deal. Well, been to New York City or Los Angeles when there's no traffic lights?
I mean that -- that's probably not life or death in most cases, but every dynamic of our future and our society and who we are, our capabilities are hostage if -- if we don't understand these things that I was talking about. Your question leads to the change, the dramatic change in threats to our world and our way of life and we have to be more agile in our military and everything we're doing to do that.
Now there was a lady in the back that didn't get her question in, George, if you'll forgive me, I'll be real quick with my answer. If you give me a quick question, I'll give a -- do you still want to ask your question? I didn't want to cut you out.
Q: (OFF MIKE)
SEC. HAGEL: Oh, well that's unfair Marjorie. (Laughter.)
And by the way, I'm glad you at least told me. (Laughter.)
But I would have recognized your voice. But I will take one question from the audience, so.
You don't work for Marjorie do you? (Laughter.)
Q: No, no, no.
My name is Cory Curtis I'm an alumnus of U&L, I just also want to thank you, Mr. Secretary for your service here in the state and around the world.
You mentioned a lot of issues, everything from the Asia rebalancing to cybersecurity and the budget and I was wondering, how do you set priorities and what are your goals for your tenure as Secretary of Defense?
SEC. HAGEL: Well let me state it this way, as I said a couple of minutes ago, every morning I ask myself that question that I ask myself before I -- I made a vote in the Senate on any big foreign policy issue. I asked myself another question that really connects to my job to your question and that is, what is my job?
And really when you define this job of the Secretary of Defense, there is but one responsibility. Everything falls underneath that top line of responsibility and that is the defense of this country.
Now I don't do that. These people, three million civilians and uniform personnel do that. But I'm their leader; I'm charged with everything good and bad that happens within the universe of the Department of Defense. Every problem and every good thing.
So that's how I prioritize starting with that. Then you start to break it down after that. Where our -- our -- our uncompromising interests and responsibilities? Well first, when you're at war, as we are still, that -- that comes right up at the top. I get reports every morning on what's happening in -- in Afghanistan. Then you go right across the top line on these other areas of prioritization. You also recognize that there will be things coming at you that you didn't anticipate.
But I'll give you a couple of things that -- that -- that I -- I hope we can accomplish during the time I'm -- I'm there.
First, making progress on everything. I'll never finish anything but I -- my main priority underneath that first priority is to do everything I can while I'm there and I'm there in a very short amount of time is -- is do everything I can to help prepare this country, our military, our structure for the next generation of challenges. Select the right leaders, help the president make the right policies, do many of the things I noted in my speech on the right investment for the future of technology, future of weapons, make the hard choices. I'm not afraid to make tough choices. I'm not afraid of criticism. You just know you're going to get it. And you recognize that you'll be second guessed on everything and there'll be some things you get wrong.
But I told the president when he first asked me about this job and I told the Congress and I've told our people that some things that -- that you need know -- right into your question -- first, I'll always be honest with you. I'll never deceive you. I'll never lie to you. I'll -- I'll be straight out, blunt honest.
You need to know that. You deserve that. And you can only lead if you've got that coin of the realm, because leadership, like life, is about character and integrity, and the coin in the realm is confidence and trust. And if your people don't trust you, if they don't have confidence in you -- they may disagree with you. That's OK.
The other part of that is listening. Listen very carefully to everybody.
One of the things I do in that area is I have a monthly luncheon with lower enlisted men and women (inaudible) all the services. So they're selected by their sergeants and majors. And they come into my office. We spend an hour and a half. We go around the table. I don't -- I don't let anybody else in the room. It's just those men and women; they're E-5s and below. And I listen to 'em, and I ask them questions.
And I said, "You know, this won't work unless you're honest with me. You gotta tell me the truth." And they do.
Sexual assault, that has to be fixed. That's a disgrace. I would hope... (Applause.)
I -- I hope I can help put the Pentagon, our military on the -- on the right path. I know we can. I know we can do it and we will.
That's -- that's one of the areas.
There are so many infrastructure things we can clean up. It's nobody's fault, nobody's to blame. We've been through 12 years of war, as I noted in my comments. And -- and when a nation's been at war for 12 years in two wars -- one's the longest war we've ever been in, the other the third longest war we've ever been in -- you're gonna have a lot of stuff build up. It needs to be eliminated. It needs to be fixed. It needs to be restructured. And that's what I would hope to be able to also do in the time I'm here. Use me to help do that.
I will not do that, I cannot do that without the support of the uniformed military.
I'm very fortunate, as I said earlier when I was complimenting George Little, the people that Gates and Panetta selected and left behind across the board are tremendous people. And I start with the chiefs, starting with General Marty Dempsey, our chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
I don't know a more appropriate leader to have in that job at this time than General Dempsey. His common sense, his judgment. He's just -- he's just the right person.
All our chiefs at the right time -- and this has been tough for them. When I went through that review within the last three months when I demanded, "You show me where you're gonna cut 20 percent of everything. You show me where you're gonna cut 30 percent. "
"But Secretary, if we..."
I said, "No, no. You gotta be part of it. I can't do that. I will do that -- you do that. You're the chief of staff of the Army; I'm not. I'll never have any concept of what you already know. But I will make the tough choices."
This has been tough for our senior leaders.
I just had the nine combatant commanders in for two days last week. One of those combatant commanders, as these guys know, is General Kehler, STRATCOM commander; is one of the nine combatant commanders that essentially manage our operations around the world.
These nine combatant commanders report to the secretary of defense. Now, they're not just connected from the chief of each of the services or the chairman. But there are different roles (inaudible). And we brought them into this.
And I watched these -- these people who have given 35, 38 years of their lives to this institution -- and they'll be the first to tell you, yeah, a lot of stuff is built up here that we really don't need. But you know where that goes back to -- and I'm gonna end my answer because (inaudible) way too long on this -- but it goes back to the confidence they have to have in me; that if they're honest with me and come forward and put everything on the table. Because I said to 'em, "I recognize the CNO [chief of naval operations] of the Navy, the chief of staff of the Air Force and the Army, your prime responsibility -- I get it -- is to your service. I get that. But you got a higher responsibility, and that's to this country."
We all do. We're going into this together, we're going to come out together and they've got to develop enough trust and confidence in me so when they're honest with me and they put -- well I can -- I can cut three or four brigades or whatever it is, they've got to trust me that I'm not going to use that against them and I really didn't need that much of a cut, General Odierno, but I just want to see how much you're holding back and you're hiding. (Laughter.)
I mean, human beings are human beings and if you were -- if you were the chief of one of those services that would be your reaction too. Am I -- what am I giving away here and what am I getting in return? So it is the coin in the round and it's -- it's -- it's a big question and worthy question. It's a question that you ask -- I ask myself every day because I've got to be worthy of these men and women.
Thank you. (Applause.)