United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

Secretary of Defense Speech

Press Operations Bookmark and Share

Speech


University of Nebraska-Omaha

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Omaha, Nebraska, Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thank you very much.

Thank you, and 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.

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.

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.

And, the people who run 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 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 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 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 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.  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.

Thank you.

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 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 [90,000] lives.  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 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 beoming 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 force structure 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, 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 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, 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 are 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 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.

Most Recent Speeches

10/17/2014

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Marine Barracks, Washington DC

10/17/2014

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Washington, D.C.

10/15/2014

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Washington, D.C.

10/13/2014

As Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Arequipa, Peru

10/03/2014

As Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work , Washington, DC.

10/01/2014

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Pentagon Press Briefing Room

09/30/2014

As Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington, D.C.

09/26/2014

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Pentagon Auditorium

09/26/2014

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Washington DC

09/19/2014

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Pentagon River Terrace Parade Field

Additional Links

Stay Connected