SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you. Thank you. Good morning. I appreciate an opportunity to be back in Chicago and visit again with many friends.
Ivo [Daalder], thank you for your introduction.
When I see Ivo, I think it's a NATO ministerial about ready to begin.
And I want to thank you, Ivo, for your service to this country, in particular your distinguished service as our NATO ambassador for four years at a very defining and important time in our country's history, history of the world and the history of NATO. Your leadership and understanding of these big issues was always evident, and NATO benefited from your guidance and your leadership, and certainly the United States did, so, Ivo, thank you.
I want to thank the Chicago Council for inviting me back. That's always a positive sign.
And I have always admired and appreciated this council's understanding and involvement in the big issues. I don't know -- and this probably more of a parochial comment, since I am from the Midwest -- I don't know if it's a more common-sense approach to affairs and issues and world events that emanates out of the Midwest -- at least that's my narrow parochial take on all of this -- but this council has always been one that leaders in this country could count on to present thoughtful discussions about these big issues of our time.
And I think everyone in this room understands clearly that the world is not getting any less complicated. It is more complicated, probably, than ever before. But that should not intimidate us. And for the council and for what you all do, your participation, your active engagement to make it all work, I thank you. I thank you as secretary of defense. I thank you as a citizen of this country.
Also, to the Institute of Politics and Mr. [David] Axelrod and the University of Chicago, thank you. I know we have a number of students here. I look forward to visiting with you after this session for your very honest and crisp critique on every obvious flaw that I presented -- so I'll look forward to that. And I think that's a tremendously important connection, bringing these two institutions together, especially bringing our young people into this more and more at not just the stage you are in, in your lives and your careers, but how it extends beyond just your own personal life and beyond just the institutions. So to all of you, thank you. And I, again, appreciate an opportunity to be with you this morning.
Whenever I come here -- and it's been often over the years -- my mother and two of her sisters worked in this area during World War II for two years after they spent two years in a bomber plant in Omaha. They could type, so they thought they had a future in Chicago, so they got a train and came here, and the last two years of World War II, they worked here in Chicago. So my family on my mother's side has been part of this community, South Chicago, for probably 100 years, so I feel almost home when I'm here.
And when I do come here, I recall the poet, Carl Sandburg's, description of Chicago as “the city of big shoulders.” This city has always embodied the promise and dynamism of America. It has reflected not only the city of big shoulders, but the nation of big shoulders. The Chicago skyline reminds us all of what America is, and it remains a symbol of America's economic power and industrial base.
But Chicago has never lost its humanity and the personality it has always had as it brought people together from all over the world.
This part of our country also plays an important role in our nation's security, and that's not just because Chicago is the home of our commander-in-chief. I recognize that's not an insignificant part of this. And I assured the president I would do everything not to embarrass him in his hometown.
Later today, I'll travel 35 miles up the shore of Lake Michigan to Great Lakes Naval Station. This station is where for generations our Navy's newest recruits have gone to boot camp to receive basic training.
The thousands of enlisted sailors will go through Great Lakes this year, like their counterparts in the Army, Marines and Air Force, entering a military undergoing an historic transition, a transition from protracted wars in the Middle East and Central Asia to new challenges, threats and opportunities, and from seemingly limitless resources to constrained budgets.
What hangs in the balance is not just America's military, but also America's global standing, our global standing for years to come. Today, I'd like to discuss this transition and the global dynamics that are affecting foreign affairs, our military, and America's role in the world.
Unlike their predecessors of the past 13 years, our military's newest recruits do not face the almost certain prospects of deploying to war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead, they face a fractured global security landscape, one characterized by great uncertainty, rapid change, new and sophisticated threats, and continued political turbulence,
The rise of Asia, the explosion of youth populations in the Middle East and Africa, new technologies bringing people closer together, and new threats emanating from these technologies, like cyber, deepening global economic interdependence and the diffusion of global economic power, a resurgence of nationalism and sectarian conflict around the world, new sources of energy in this hemisphere and elsewhere, climate change, and more frequent destructive natural disasters – all these realities are challenging and will continue to challenge America's security and our prosperity.
While many of these threats are borderless, America and its allies face a stern test in the unprecedented confluence of today's global challenges emanating within and between nation-states. These include the civil and sectarian war and humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, Iran's destabilizing activities, North Korea's continued dangerous provocations in Northeast Asia, simmering tensions between China, Japan and Southeast Asian nations in the South and East China Seas, deadly terrorist threats to the nations of North Africa and beyond, Afghanistan's continuing struggle for security and stability, and Russia's blatant aggression in Ukraine.
All of this offers a reminder that the character of international relations has not changed. Conflicts between states, historic religious and ethnic hatreds, and rivalries between regional powers all remain defining features of today's global landscape. They remind us that history and geography still matter.
Working with allies and friends, American leadership must respond to these challenges and help shape the forces that will shape our future. More and more people in nations around the world are gaining a stake in the global order that we helped build after World War II. Not only has NATO enlarged and strengthened, but new regional systems are emerging in Asia and the Middle East, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Gulf Cooperation Council that are helping nations forge new kinds of cooperation to address common interests and common challenges.
As we witness a realignment of interests, influences and challenges, the United States must continue to exercise strong, steady and inspired leadership as we did after World War II. What we accomplished during that period of time and how we accomplished it remains instructive as we work with friends and allies to adapt and strengthen our global order to meet shifting realities.
The post-World War II decade was, like today, a time of great uncertainty, but a time of great hope. And America was also focusing inward. But America's leaders -- Harry Truman, Dean Acheson, George Marshall, and Dwight Eisenhower among them -- knew that the security and prosperity of our citizens, American citizens here at home, depended on our engagement and leadership abroad. They stepped forward to build alliances in international institutions, helping establish the rules and norms that still underpin security and prosperity today.
Their success also hinged on recognizing, as George Marshall once said, that “a very strong military posture is vitally necessary, but it is too narrow, too narrow a basis on which to build a dependable, long-enduring peace.” We must lead with a robust and comprehensive use of all of our instruments of power, employing cultural, educational, economic, diplomatic, development, and military tools alike.
In Europe, our rapid deployment of U.S. forces to Poland and our Baltic allies continues to reassure them all of our commitment to NATO's collective security against Russia's aggression, as we also strengthen our diplomatic and economic options.
In the Middle East, our force posture, including more than 35,000 DOD personnel in and around the Persian Gulf, helped contribute to the diplomatic opening with Iran and helped compel the Assad regime to dismantle its chemical weapons program through a diplomatic process.
In the Asia Pacific rebalance, we are employing all of our instruments of power to strengthen allies, underwrite the free flow of commerce, and help nations resolve disputes peacefully so all nations there can live in peace and freedom as their nations prosper.
Although Americans today are increasingly skeptical of foreign engagement and global responsibilities, it is a mistake -- it's a mistake to view these responsibilities as a burden or charity.
Let us remember that the biggest beneficiaries of American leadership and engagement in the world are the American people. Turning inward, history teaches us, does not insulate us from the world's troubles. It only forces us to be more engaged later, at a higher cost, at a higher cost in blood and treasure and often on the terms of others. This is perhaps more true than ever in today's globalized world. Walking away from the world and our relationships is not an option for the United States.
Despite all the challenges and imperfections and problems facing America and the world today -- and they are numerous -- we are living still in an era of unprecedented prosperity and opportunity. It is easy to be lulled into taking this for granted, but we cannot forget that this era resulted from decades of American engagement abroad with our allies, as well as investments in our people and infrastructure here at home.
In the post-war era, the United States military has contributed to peace and prosperity not only by fighting wars, but by preventing wars. America's investment in its military remains a dominant factor in continuing to help build a peaceful, free and stable world.
But we cannot assume that the clear lessons of history are always recognized or heeded. History informs us that allowing our military strength to weaken when coming out of a war is always, always a costly mistake, especially costly like today when there is no obvious peace dividend.
As forcefully as George Marshall argued for balance in America's foreign policy, he also warned that after war, “Americans too often allow for,” in his words, “the rapid disintegration of our once vast power for maintaining the peace.”
We should pay attention to his words. We should also recognize that military strength is not only defined by the size of our force, but by its agility and how quickly it can be mobilized and how superior its weapons and technology are always as we compare them to our adversaries. The force must be kept in balance as we adjust to new fiscal and strategic realities and challenges.
DOD's leaders had long expected that coming out of the wars, the defense budget would be reduced, and it has been reduced, just like previous wars. But the scale and the pace of the budget cuts we're experiencing and that we have experienced in recent years have been made far more severe and more abrupt because political gridlock in Washington triggered steep automatic cuts to the president's budget request by way of sequestration, an irresponsible deferral of governing responsibility.
And even as Congress has slashed our overall budget, they have so far proven unwilling to accept necessary reforms to curb growth in compensation costs and eliminate DOD's excess infrastructure and unneeded facilities.
This is not the political or budget environment that the president or I wanted, nor any of our leadership at DOD. But it is the environment we have. It is the environment that we must deal with and manage through.
Over the past year, DOD's leaders and I have built a budget plan that makes a series of tough choices, tough choices to match resources to real strategic priorities and missions. This budget is now being debated before Congress, and that means we have entered a crucial period for our military's future, one that will play out not just in the coming months of debate, but over the next few years and beyond, because the decisions we make today will determine the size, form and fighting strength of our future military.
As we enter this period of transition, we know that we face enormous strategic and managerial challenges. If we fail to meet these challenges, “the yawning gap,” as this week's Economist magazine editorial put it, “between Uncle Sam and his potential foes seems bound to shrink.”
Sustaining our edge in the face of new strategic and fiscal challenges will require Congress's partnership, partnership in making tough choices, always looking at our broader national interests instead of narrow constituencies. It will require Congress to provide the Pentagon with the resources and the flexibility we need to meet our national security responsibilities.
If we get this flexibility, the United States military will emerge from this period having sustained and even sharpened its decisive edge. Doing so will support America's global leadership, enhance our credibility abroad, and ultimately ensure our security at home.
We can and we must, as Tom Friedman recently noted, do big and difficult things together, but this demands that we protect three pillars of our military embedded within our strategy and our budget.
Our first priority is our people. The first priority of any institution must always be its people, because it is the commitment of our people, their professionalism and their skill, the unique commitment of these men and women in uniform that give our military its decisive advantage.
These attributes in our service members are justly celebrated, but they are not inevitable. Not only do we need the right people, they must be afforded the chance to grow, develop new skills, and make meaningful contributions to our nation's defense in an atmosphere that fosters professionalism, dignity, and respect. And they and their families must be fairly compensated and cared for by the country they serve.
But what motivates people to join and stay in the military is not just the compensation, it's the sense of purpose that comes with the mission and the training and the skills that their services provided. That message has been driven home to me repeatedly almost every time I meet with our troops all over the world.
Taking care of our people during this period of transition requires that we maintain military readiness, the training and the maintenance that keeps our force prepared. Readiness is an expensive proposition. And the difficulty with advocating for readiness is that it lacks a built-in constituency, except among those who serve in the military. Outside of war, readiness is and has been historically overlooked. But in today's world, neglecting readiness is an irresponsible gamble that we do not want to take. DOD's senior leaders and I will continue making the argument to Congress that readiness must be an urgent priority.
This ultimately requires tradeoffs. Some of them are politically easy; others are far more difficult, like adjusting military compensation, retiring aging weapons platforms, and reducing the overall size of the force, both active and National Guard and reserve.
We must take these actions in order to maintain a ready force for the future. It is the responsible, the responsible thing to do. If we do not take these actions now, then we will embark on a certain path of demoralizing and hollowing out our force. It will jeopardize our nation's ability to successfully respond to military crises anywhere in the world at any time.
A similar risk exists if we do not provide our men and women with clearly superior arms, equipment and technology. That's why my second priority is investing in the military capabilities needed to meet new and enduring threats. I'm not interested in a fair fight. And I don't want to be capable of only fighting the last war. That was the last war. Instead, we must rebalance and modernize the military's full suite of capabilities. We must do so with an eye toward the most likely and lethal threats to our future, recognizing that many of the military's key conventional weapons platforms are aging and they need to be upgraded or replaced.
Terrorists and insurgents are not fading into oblivion. The continued and spreading threat that they pose was a key part of our decision to grow and strengthen our special operations forces and capabilities, but we must also re-emphasize the capabilities and skills needed to counter high-intensity threats from more sophisticated adversaries. As we've seen in Ukraine and elsewhere, we must prepare for shadowy conflicts in which nations deploy irregular forces, conduct cyberterrorism, and seek ways to counter our technological edge. And we will always require a ready, capable and modern standing Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
This means investing in the military's major next-generation weapons systems, including the new Joint Strike Fighter, the new long-range bomber, and new submarines and aircraft carriers, but it also means protecting new tools in space and cyber, which our budget does, and investing in unmanned systems, precision strike, and intelligence platforms. It means continuing to invest in science, research and technology, and strengthening organizations like DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which also saw a funding increase in our budget proposal.
Modernizing all of our military's capabilities will not only help ensure our continued military edge, it will also help sustain America's defense industrial base. Now that industrial base, a good amount of it here in the Midwest, is in itself a critically important national strategic asset.
We also must adjust our capabilities to meet new global realities, including environmental changes. Just today, the nation's top scientists released a national climate assessment that warns us in very stark terms that the effects of climate change are already becoming quite apparent.
One area where we see this is the Arctic. The melting of gigantic ice caps presents possibilities for the opening of new sea lanes and the exploration for natural resources, energy and commerce, also with the dangerous potential for conflict in the Arctic.
The Defense Department is bolstering its engagement in the Arctic and looking at what capabilities we need to operate there in the future, as described in DOD's first-ever Arctic strategy that I introduced at the Halifax international security forum last November.
But in the face of strict budget limits, we must make many tradeoffs in capabilities, as well. That's why our budget plan divests DOD of several venerable, capable, but aging platforms, like the 50-year-old U-2 spy plane and the A-10, a close air support platform that cannot operate in the face of sophisticated enemy air defenses. These decisions were difficult, but they were based on real-world needs and strategic imperatives.
We cannot afford to keep all of our platforms. We must prioritize for our future requirements. It won't be easy, it won't be popular, but given our continued budget restraints and uncertainties, we have no choice. And if we do not make these choices now, we will be left with a force that is large, but not sufficiently ready or capable to meet national security requirements.
Given budget restraints and the end of two large-scale wars, we have accepted some reductions in the size of the force, but these reductions need not and will not diminish our commitment to America's alliances and partnerships which remain the foundation for our approach to global security and for our military's global presence.
Today, the U.S. military is engaged in nearly 100 countries with nearly 400,000 personnel stationed or deployed around the world. Strengthening these partnerships is our third priority, because working with and working through allies and partners, just as we did during World War II and since, is as essential today as it has ever been.
What our budget proposal and defense strategy makes clear is that even as we shrink our military's size, we must not simply return to garrison. We must continue strengthening the capabilities of our allies, forming new alliances and bolstering old ones, and investing in collective security arrangements.
We want our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen and Marines active around the world, deploying with greater frequency and agility, with the skills and expertise needed to build security capacity in each region. An example of this kind of mutually beneficial partnership that we now seek and we pursue can be found here in Illinois, where your National Guard has built a more than 20-year relationship with the Polish armed forces. Leveraging the expertise and skills of our guardsmen, we have helped Poland become a more capable ally and contribute to the mission in Afghanistan.
Building stronger partnerships does not require large-scale deployments. As we continue to shift forces and operational focus to the Asia Pacific region, we are pursuing new access agreements, agreements like the one President Obama announced last week in the Philippines, which enable us to sustain presence without a rigid and costly basing structure.
We've also begun new deployments of Marines to Australia and Navy littoral combat ships to Singapore, where they're available to operate with partners and respond to contingencies, and we're also deploying more advanced capabilities to Japan and South Korea, our allies in Northeast Asia.
At the same time, we're finding new ways to team up with civilian counterparts to strengthen the capacity of partner nations in Africa and Latin America. I saw this firsthand last month in Guatemala, where our troops were helping build schools and provide medical education and assistance. And tomorrow, I'll meet with the president of Djibouti to talk about how to bolster the regional training activities the U.S. military conducts with its partners in that country.
A final critical aspect of strengthening partnerships is our engagement with multilateral organizations. This not only includes NATO, but also regional institutions, like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Last month, I hosted the first-ever U.S.-ASEAN defense ministers' meeting on U.S. soil in Hawaii. We focused on our common security interests, our common challenges, our common opportunities, and how we can continue to build cooperation in areas like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
This month, I will travel to Saudi Arabia for a U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council defense ministerial with all the defense ministers from the GCC countries, focused on regional security issues. And early next month, I will participate in my fourth NATO defense ministerial, a tribute, of course, to Ivo.
At all these forums, the U.S. participation and engagement is welcomed, if not overtly sought, as Ivo and many of you in this room know. And that has everything to do with the respect afforded our men and women in uniform and the unmatched capabilities they bring to bear around the world.
Our people, our capabilities, our partnerships, these are what make the American military unique and the envy of the world. They will be my guiding focus, all the leadership of DOD's guiding focus as we reshape, rebalance, and reform our defense enterprise for the challenges ahead and ensure America's global leadership.
This will require innovation and agility in every area. And it will require engagement around the world.
From our own history, we know why America's global leadership is indispensable to our own future. This history is reflected in the story of this council, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an organization founded in 1922 to fight against the rising tide of isolationism that gripped America after the end of World War I.
Fifteen years after this council was founded, Franklin Roosevelt -- then president of the United States -- came to Chicago to talk about the rising threats posed by Japan and Germany. He delivered his most passionate case to date about the need to turn away from the isolationist path, the insular, inward look, and he said, "We are determined to keep out a war, but yet we cannot have complete protection in a world of disorder, in which confidence and security have broken down."
We all know that these appeals were not enough to summon action at that time. President Roosevelt's speech was greeted with protests and anger from a public determined to stay out of international affairs. But we also know what followed -- the costliest conflict in world history.
At his Fourth Inaugural on January 20, 1945, President Roosevelt reflected on the lessons of that conflict. And he said, "We have learned that we cannot live alone at peace, that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community."
These words echo even more loudly today and summon us to meet our responsibilities around the world. America must not succumb to the temptation to turn inward. We do not engage in the world because we are a great nation. Rather, we are a great nation because we engage in the world, and because we engage with confidence and purpose.
This is a complicated and challenging time. But it is not a time to lose confidence in ourselves, who we are, what we believe, and what we represent. Though the challenges that face our world, our nation, and all of its institutions are great, so is our capacity to deal with these problems if we are wise, steady and resolute. Never in the history of mankind has the nation possessed so much capacity to help make a better world for all mankind. We must not fear change, but embrace it. We must not only look inward, but also upward and outward. We must remain a nation of big shoulders.
MODERATOR: Can you take some questions?
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for not only those kind words, but that, I think, quite remarkable, broad overview of where we stand today, and I think the -- the call for continued engagement was strong and loud. I think we all heard it.
At this point, the secretary has agreed to take a few questions. Please put your hand up and we will recognize you, but wait until the microphone comes your way. And why don't we just start over here, the gentleman in the fourth row with the blue shirt?
Q: (OFF-MIC) still count on the value of diplomacy if those who agree can rescind without consequence?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, a clever question, indeed. (Laughter.)
But I think I got your point. (Laughter.)
My answer would be, we have always lived in an imperfect world. We've always lived in a world where everybody doesn't play by the same rules. But that is a given with a world that, as we all know and as I noted, that is challenging for many reasons. And as a world evolves -- as I noted in my speech -- a diffusion of power, not just economic power, more players, more interests. Obviously, we're interconnected. We have to frame all of this up into focusing on our foreign policy, our principles, our interests, realizing that everybody doesn't see the world as we do.
But one of the points I made in this speech that I want to come back to just for a moment to hopefully answer your question to some extent is my -- my reference to what's happened in the world since World War II. I think by most measurements and any metric that you would apply to the last 65 years, imperfect, problems, issues, haven't solved all the problems in the world, but a pretty good 65 years, not for everybody, no World War III. How many leaders of World War II left this world with that concern in mind with a nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the United States, thinking that that was very possible and very real? That hasn't occurred.
I think by any measurement, we have made the world, all of us, with American leadership, working with our friends and allies across the world, pretty remarkable progress on more democracies evolving, developing, more opportunities, more freedoms, imperfect.
You know, we tend occasionally to see the world in terms of America 2014, our democracy 2014. Well, when we started in 1776, we didn't have it all right. That's why we have 27 amendments to the Constitution. Half of the people in this room could not vote in the United States of America less than 100 years ago. We had to have a constitutional amendment to fix that, and I think all of the other societal issues and some of the other things that we're well aware of.
We need to keep in mind, as we work with these countries, that -- that, yes, they have cultures, they have frameworks of history, but as long as we continue to influence an outcome for the future, for our future, our principles, our values, what we believe in -- and it is difficult, because people don't always play by the same rules -- there are countries who undermine our efforts, but that's not new. That's not new in the world. That's always been so. It's more defined today, obviously, because of technology and the awareness of what's going on.
So I know I rambled a little bit on your question, but I thought you gave me some license with the question. So, thank you. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: That's what you get for a precise question. In the back, over -- right behind -- the lady to the right, right behind you, yes.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I was wondering if the Department of Defense has a policy about the East and Central African oil boom that's taking place right now, particularly because that region has a lot of similarities with the Arctic Circle, in that there are a lot of -- there's energy, minerals, fresh water, and, in fact, available fresh water, but also the Great Lakes has been experiencing a tremendous amount of conflict for the past 20 years, as well as terrorism that's creeping from the west and the east along the continent. Is there a view about the energy resource development that's taking place there?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, there is. And you probably noted that I mentioned -- I didn't specifically mention East Africa or West Africa, but I mentioned the shifts in the discovery of energy resources I said both in the Western Hemisphere and around the world. Certainly the area that you have just referenced would be one of those.
Energy exploration, the ability not only to find these new sources of energy and extract those and be able to develop those potential areas, probably is going to be as important on how the future of the world is defined as any one thing.
Energy is the engine for growth, for our prosperity, for possibilities, as well, obviously, as water. And those are two components of our world, starting with water, that you can't do without, fresh water, clean water. This is why I was referencing in my remarks about environmental issues, energy issues. They are all connected and integrated into our national security, the future of the world.
I mean, you look at the population today, six billion people; demographers are talking about the possibility over the next 25, 30 years of 2 billion more people. We will crowd more and more people onto the same space, requiring, demanding these new requirements for existence. Energy will be a huge part of that.
The concern that we always have, as I noted in the Arctic, for example, we do know that there are tremendous natural resources, energy resources, minerals up in that area. That's an area for potential conflict, just as East -- West Africa, not just among non-nation-states and organizations, but between nation-states.
So the energy piece of this is something that is intricately woven into the fabric and the pattern that you ask of our foreign policy or any nation's foreign policy. That's why we need to stay ahead of this as much as we can to work with our partners and use our influence to help, as these countries develop those energy resources. So it's a big part of an entire arc of our foreign policy.
MODERATOR: Right here in the front row.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned the need for new platforms of weapons and equipment, et cetera. At the same time, Congress continues to approve money for some old platforms. Is there any way to shift it around or slow down the waste?
SEC. HAGEL: Well, you should run for Congress, I think. (Laughter.)
As you know, I -- I spent a little time focusing on this. And I know, I was in the United States Senate for 12 years, so I'm not unfamiliar with the political realities and pressures of a member of Congress in his or her district or state. I get that.
But leadership is about doing the right thing. Leadership is about getting above parochial interests. I know that's difficult to do. Standing up here, speaking in theoretical terms, I know that's easy to do. But I actually know a little about what I'm talking about. I don't use myself as a model on how to do it best, but I live that world. So I have some understanding.
But our leaders are going to have to get above this and not make decisions for our national security based on their own narrow interests. They'll have to figure that out. Each member of Congress is elected, represents a state or a district. I respect that. I never, ever in my 12 years in the Senate told a member how to vote. Each of us has to figure that out. I would advocate for a position. But it's why you're -- you're an elected leader. That's why you are part of the representative government system.
But you heard some of the comments I made. I'd like -- all our military leaders would like to keep a lot of weapons systems. But I've got to project out into where we place this enterprise for the future. When I walk out of the Pentagon and every one of our leaders, our senior leaders, feels the same way, is we have to look back -- and you ask yourself one question. Did I leave it better than I found it? Is it stronger? Is it better prepared for the future? Going back and continuing to limp along with 50-year-old platforms, no matter how good they were or how effective they were, we don't have that luxury. We've got to build for the future, and that's what we're trying to do.
And I also mentioned the Congress has to be a partner with us in this. I've said that in testimony to members of Congress. I say this when we talk. They know that. They're a big part of all this. There is no money without Congress.
So they need to be part of it. As I often would remind some of my friends in the executive branch when I was in the legislative branch, that Article I of the Constitution is about the legislative branch. Now, they're three co-equal branches, I get that. That's why they're supposed to work so well. They're balanced. (Laughter.)
But nonetheless, it's imperfect. But it really does come down to an assessment for our future and what leadership's responsibility is to prepare our nation, not just for today, but probably more importantly for tomorrow.
MODERATOR: I was looking for a younger student over there, and we found one, actually two, but...
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. You spoke about some of the challenges that Congress faces, and I think one of those big challenges has been dealing with the issue of sexual assault in the military. So as an aspiring future lawyer, I'm interested in why you think that the judicial system should not be prosecuting sexual assaults in the military and instead it should go through the military process.
SEC. HAGEL: Well, thank you. And it's -- it's a central question, as you've been following all this, and I wish you well -- are you in law school or...
SEC. HAGEL: You are? Almost. Okay. (Laughter.)
Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I have a brother who's a law school professor, so he manufactures people like you. (Laughter.)
And I say that with great affection, as you know. I wasn't smart enough to be a lawyer. My brother reminds me of that all the time.
Your question is really a central part of the entire issue. And where I start is with this. Institutions must be accountable. Leaders must be responsible. Our institution, our enterprise is -- is a different enterprise, the military, from any other. That doesn't mean that they should not comply with laws. Sexual assault is a crime, pure, simple, no matter if it's on a military base or -- or college campus. So you start there.
Then, what is the most wise, effective way to deal with it? And the biggest concern I have had -- and I've said so -- and our military leaders have, as we've presented our programs to Congress -- and I don't know of an institution in the country, by the way, that's done more than the U.S. military on this issue. And we're not where we need to be yet. We will get there. I've made it a high priority. I've made it as high a priority as there is. I meet with all our sexual assault prevention office people once a week for an hour.
Those of you who are familiar, the things that we've done, I'm very proud of the things that we've done. We should have been doing this years ago, but that's -- we can't do anything about that. We can do something now and into the future, and we are doing it.
But to your question, I don't think it is wise or responsible to take out of the system the commanders, the very people who are responsible for the system. Now, I know the argument is, well, it hadn't worked very well, Mr. Secretary. I'm not sure that's altogether correct, in the sense that when you look at prosecutorial rates of who goes to court martial versus who goes to court and prosecutors and who do they go after and get to court and so on, I mean, we've got -- we've got pretty good -- pretty good system when you compare it, not good enough, because if there's one assault, that's too many. We get that.
But I don't think you solve the problem by taking it out of the very institution that has to be responsible for solving the problem. Now, the things that we can do -- I've suggested to Congress over the last year things that I would ask, to have the Uniform Code of Military Justice amended. I'm the one that took the initiative on that. It started with me. It didn't start with anybody else.
So our military leaders are very open to changes, and we have had a number of them. I've issued just -- I just last week issued another six. I mean, 28 total in -- in the last eight months, victims' rights, victims' advocates. We didn't have anything like that. Now every person that comes forward, every victim is assigned an attorney. There's confidentiality. We have to develop system trust and confidence in -- in the reporting that, in fact, something will be done, and they won't be ostracized, the victim. It's not the victim's fault. It's the perpetrator.
So I think we're making progress. We're not where we need to be. I'm proud of the efforts that we're making. I do think it would be a mistake to take it out of the military.
I told the president a long time ago on this, we're not going to fix this problem by taking the answer and the resolution and the responsibility for fixing it out of the very institution that it's happening in. And I know it's not just happening in the military, as you all know. I mean, every day, there's a new front-page story about colleges and universities. This is a societal issue. But it is a criminal issue. It's a crime to assault someone.
Thank you. Good luck.
MODERATOR: Mr. Secretary, we've run out of time. Thank you very much for being a guest at our platform. We want you back.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you. (Applause.)