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Remarks at the World Economic Forum dinner presenting the Secretary of Defense IDEAS Award to Dr. William Perry

Thank you. Thanks, Klaus, for that warm introduction, and also for your partnership this evening, but for many years, and your leadership of the World Economic Forum.

And I want to thank you and all your colleagues at the World Economic Forum for hosting and sponsoring this event. And to you, and to Secretary Pritzker, to our incoming brand new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – Joe, where are you? – General Joe Dunford, who’s here tonight, and to our many distinguished guests from across the government and the business and the technology community: ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Welcome to the Pentagon on this lovely evening.

Tonight and tomorrow, we’re going to be moving the ball forward on one of my core goals as Secretary of Defense: building and rebuilding bridges between our national security endeavor here at the Pentagon, and the wonderful, innovative private-sector and technology community, which we have historically done so much together for our country and our world. Indeed, that collaboration has benefited not just our security, but our entire society – helping create in its time the Internet, GPS, and in an earlier era, satellite communications and the jet engine.

That’s the main reason why I’m working so hard to strengthen our ties and renew the bonds of trust between us: because of what we can achieve together. But there’s also a more personal reason, which I’d like to share with you. It’s about how I got into this business.

I was about 25, and had recently gotten – as Klaus remembered – my doctorate in theoretical physics, when I saw the Pentagon’s then-undersecretary of defense for technology – actually, it was then called research and engineering – give a speech at a physics conference about how technical thinking and technology could be applied to national security problems. Truth is, I kind of went to see it on a lark. I didn’t have that kind of aspiration, I didn’t have that kind of background. But it helped me realize that I could apply my technical knowledge and my technical skills to contribute to something bigger than myself: defending this country and making a better world for our children.

That undersecretary was, of course, our honoree tonight, Bill Perry, who later became Deputy Secretary of Defense, and then Secretary of Defense, in a progression I followed, myself, some 30 years later. And in that time, Bill became a major figure in my life: a mentor, a friend, stood in for my father at my wedding, and even more – even more – he made a real difference for this country, for the world, and for people everywhere.

Now, Bill was part of the World War II generation of citizen-scientists, and those who followed, who stepped forward to serve in the military and in places like Los Alamos, the MIT Radiation Laboratory, and Detroit’s legendary “arsenal of democracy” researching, developing, and cranking out the technologies and systems that helped secure our freedom. And as a soldier in postwar Japan, then later with degrees from Stanford and a Ph.D. in mathematics, Bill understood the importance of America’s public and private sectors working toward a common goal: our nation’s security and a better world. He made it a cornerstone of his life.

In his work here at the Pentagon during the Cold War, Bill embodied this commitment to partnership. When a cross-section of military, academic, and private-sector experts paved the way to a future of GPS-guided smart bombs, battle networks, and stealth, Bill channeled their work into his and Harold Brown’s groundbreaking offset strategy, harnessing technology to radically change warfare. It came to life during the 1991 Gulf War, when the world watched, stunned, at what our military might could achieve. Simply put, the offset strategy is why America’s military has been the most advanced in the world for the last 25 years.

Now, I’ve seen Bill’s commitment to partnership up close, both inside and outside of the Pentagon. There was, for example, the so-called “Last Supper,” which Bill convened, and I attended as his Assistant Secretary of Defense, right here in 1993, to warn our defense industry partners about the post-Cold War drawdown. And also our work with the former Soviet states to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands, under the Nunn-Lugar program for which Bill made my office responsible. And after leaving DoD in the late 1990s, we co-founded the Preventive Defense Project, partnering Bill’s efforts at Stanford and mine at Harvard to help policymakers prevent potential national security dangers from becoming real threats.

In all of this – in all of this – Bill has drawn on his extensive background in business. From his earliest days in Silicon Valley, where he started and led his own company for over a decade, to his years as managing director of the investment bank that underwrote the IPOs of Apple, Adobe, and later, having that private-sector perspective made Bill a better leader, a better partner, and a better strategic thinker.

Now it falls to us to continue and build upon this work. Because while today we have the finest fighting force the world has ever known, that’s not a birthright. It’s not a guarantee. We live in a changing and competitive world, and we have to earn that excellence again and again.

When I began my career, most technology of consequence originated in America, and much of that was sponsored by government, especially DoD. Today, much more technology is commercial, and the technology base is global, while other countries have been trying to catch up with the advances that Bill helped make.

Indeed, technologies once possessed by only the most formidable militaries have now gotten into the hands of previously less capably forces, and even non-state actors. Nations like Russia and China meanwhile are modernizing their militaries to try to close the gap and erode our superiority, and at the same time our reliance on things like the Internet and satellites has lead to real vulnerabilities in space and cyberspace that our opponents are eager to exploit.

So to stay ahead of those challenges and stay the best, we’re doing what Bill did – we’re investing aggressively in innovation, pushing the envelope with research into new technologies and innovative ways to apply them. We learned from Bill’s work on the offset strategy during the Cold War to develop technological and operational advantages together. And we’re applying the same approach now to develop new strategies for today’s problems.

We’re also drilling what I call tunnels through that wall, that wall that sometimes separates government from scientists and commercial technologists, making that wall more permeable, so more of America’s brightest minds can contribute to our mission – even if only for a time, or on and off through their careers, as Bill and I have.

And because we don’t build anything back here in the Pentagon, we’re looking and thinking outside of our five-sided box to forge new partnerships with America’s private-sector and tech communities. That’s why we’re opening our doors to all of you tonight and tomorrow. Because keeping our military on the cutting edge, and keeping our country and the world secure, demands that we listen and learn from companies like yours on issues like cybersecurity, technology innovation, and talent management. Whether you lead Google or Guggenheim Partners, Lockheed Martin or the Boston Consulting Group, we benefit from hearing from what you have to say.

We’ve also opened a DoD innovation hub in Silicon Valley called the Defense Innovative Unit-Experimental, or DIUx, where I recently launched and co-funded a partnership with over 100 companies, universities, and labs across the country to propel manufacturing of flexible hybrid electronics – just one of a number of institutes of that kind that we founded. And we’re making ourselves, or trying to make ourselves, more agile, more open to working with companies outside of our traditional defense orbit – like commercial firms and start-ups.

Now, on this night especially, I must add that our success in many of these endeavors requires DoD having a robust budget and long-term budget security. Thankfully we’re not up against a government shutdown tonight. We didn’t know that when we first planned this. But as I said earlier today, the short-term continuing resolution that Congress just passed isn’t good enough. It’s only a temporary solution to a much bigger problem. And a paycheck-to-paycheck approach is no better for me in defending this country than it is for you in running a business. So we need to look past this brief lull in the action and all come together behind a comprehensive, multi-year budget that funds all aspects of our national and economic security.

We need a budget that will allow us to plan and build the force of the future, equipped with boldly new technology, at the forefront of frontiers like cybersecurity, and attracting and retaining the best talent for our mission – all these topics for discussion tomorrow.

Because the bottom line is that whatever happens with the budget, the Pentagon still has to be a place that’s open to new ideas – where we ask, what’s the next game changer, what’s the next stealth, what’s our next offset strategy? And then we work together to chart the way ahead.

That is the legacy of Bill Perry. And to honor it, and inspire future generations to carry it forward, I’ve created the new Secretary of Defense IDEAS Award.

I-D-E-A-S – now, that’s an acronym. In the Pentagon everything’s an acronym. As Bill knows, there’s (26)5 five-letter acronyms. Now, Bill, it turns out they were all already taken, except this one, so we named your award for it, the one that was left. But it works. It stands for Innovators in Defense, Enterprise, Academia and Science. And every year this award will go to someone who has built bridges between the technology world and the defense world, and who has helped drive innovation to benefit our defense mission, the security of this country and our entire world, to leave a better world for our children.

Now, it’s been said – including by me – that “a good idea [and] a good speech don’t mean anything to Bill Perry.” Instead it’s always about where it’s going to lead and what the results going to be.

That mentality is exactly right. An idea is just a seed. And though it may critical, what really matters to the world is what it grows into.

Make no mistake, Bill Perry’s ideas grew into something special – unique for their generation. They’ve made our military stronger, our country safer, and our world more secure.

And because of that, it’s my pleasure to invite him up here to present him with the inaugural Secretary of Defense IDEAS Award – Bill. 

And there you are, Secretary of Defense IDEAS Award, presented to the honorable Bill Perry.