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Discussion with Secretary Carter at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, Harvard Institute of Politics, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Dec. 1, 2015
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; Graham Allison, director, Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School

GRAHAM ALLISON:  So good evening, I'm Graham Allison, the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.  And it's my great honor to welcome home the Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. (Applause.)

So what does the Secretary of Defense do?  For those of you who haven't studied up, he has a budget of about $600 billion.  Billion.  Half of the federal workforce works for him.  More than two million men and women in arms as well as the civilians.

He's the president's chief adviser on national security affairs that involve the use of military force.

He's the chief interlocutor of ministers of defense of every other country in the world.  He actually has become, also, part of the diplomatic corps since things having not gone all that well recently in the relationship between the U.S. and Israel.  As Jeff Goldberg wrote recently, that account seems to have been given to Ash since he manages to get along with his counter parts better than many of the other parts of the U.S. Government.

And when he's not doing this, he spent 3.5 hours this morning testifying to the House  Armed Services Committee.  So why would somebody with a job like that be here with us tonight?

And I can say it's only out of his affection for his colleagues here.  And it's for our affection for him.  So let's say again how proud we are. (Applause.)

So Ash, let me start with a -- with a question that connects to the Kennedy School directly.

So you've been called the best prepared secretary of defense we ever had.  And the question is, how was your two decades spent here -- how did they contribute to your preparation for this job?

You spent 20 years here thinking, writing, teaching about issues of national security and defense.  So in what ways are these helpful to you for doing what you do everyday?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Yeah.  Well, no -- no question about it.  By the way, this is the house that Graham built that we're in today and a lot of respect -- (Applause.) -- the great institution.  I'm proud to have been apart of it and obviously I'm better for it.  For everything I learned here, and everything I was able to do.

I -- I liken to get a slightly different point, though, which is look around here at these people.  Everywhere I go, and not just in Washington.  All around the world are Kennedy School students in all kinds of positions of consequence.  American, non-American, uniform, non-uniformed.  And they combine the two things that were always magic for me, and one of the reasons I'm here in Boston is to try to elicit more of this kind of interest.  But the two things that were magical to me in my life was -- was first of all, feeling like I could contribute something.  And it originally was physics, which was my background and then other things I learned here at the Kennedy School.  But the second one was working on something of consequence -- being apart of something that's bigger than yourself.

And that's what we have.  And if you get that combination, which I think all of you must feel, where you're doing something which is so clearly of importance to this country, but to human kind, and helping leave a better future for our children, making the world a place where people can raise their families, dream their dreams, live their lives in peace.  If you can be apart of that and you feel that you're uniquely valuable -- you're in a real (inaudible), and you know what?  That wouldn't of been done or that wouldn't have been advanced without my contribution.

That's magic.  And it makes up for all the other grief associated with public service.

MR. ALLISON:  So, okay.  And one of the reasons when Ash looks around and finds a lot of Kennedy school faces is that if you go to the front office at the -- the secretary of

defense at the Pentagon, lo and behold, the chief of staff is over here, Eric Rosenbach.  If you look at his chief assistants, half a dozen of them are Kennedy School students.  Including Sasha who's here somewhere.

SEC. CARTER:  Sasha Rogers.

MR. ALLISON:  Where's Sasha?

SEC. CARTER:  There she is.

MR. ALLISON:  Sasha just graduated two -- years or three ago?

STAFF:  2011.

MR. ALLISON:  2011. 

So we are so proud of the students have graduated from the place.  And Ash is not the employer of last resort, but nonetheless he's managed to recruit a number of them.

Ash, you mentioned the trip that your -- here in Boston.  So this is part of -- a counterpart to the trips you took to Silicon Valley where you're coming to the hub of the biotech revolution, synthetic biology, genomics, to try to connect tomorrow at the Broad -- and at MIT, to this community with the notion that it will be beneficial to the nation's defense. 

So specifically, what are you looking for and how does this work?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, it -- it, you know, I've -- I've gotta fight the fights of today.  I spent all morning on counter-ISIL.  I'm sure we'll come back to that.  And we deal with all the major geopolitical situations that confront our country, but I'm always mindful of this, Graham, which is that I -- it is my privilege to command the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  And there are a number of reasons for that. 

One is the technology we have.  Come back to that.  Another one is what we stand for, which I'm proud of, and what -- and -- and for that reason, people like working with us.  We have friends and allies around the world; that's unique.  It's because of what we stand for.

But it is also, and importantly, because of the people.  And so, I need to look to my successor, and my successor's successor, and say, what they have is fine -- it's an all volunteer force, right?  We don't make anybody do this, we don't draft them either into civilian service or military service.

So, it has to be attractive to the next generation of people who see their lives differently.  They don't want to live Ford Motor company lives; they want to live up-to-date lives, in which their life doesn't look like an escalator, where you get on and wait until it takes you up.  You get to hop around like a jungle gym, and get up by getting around.  They want to live that kind of life.

Can we connect to that generation, so that we live such -- that's what I -- why I want to come to a place where -- that is a great educational hub for the United States.

Then you mentioned biotechnology, and of course, biotechnology isn't the only thing that is done in the greater Boston area, but this is probably the central location for the life sciences research in the United States.

We, in order to remain the best, and particularly, to stay ahead of people who would do harm to us, we need to have access to the best technology.

Now, when I started out in this business -- I'm a physicist, all the technology of consequence, most of it, originated in the United States.  And a great deal of it originated with the government.

Now, neither of those is true anymore.  We still do a lot; we still have spinoffs.  But you know, it's not like it used to be.

So, if we can't connect to the technology community, and get them interested in our problems and involved in our problems -- and meet them halfway, because sometimes there's distrust, the Snowden thing didn't help us in the IT [information technology] area.  I realize that, we have to face up to that, and try to rebuild trust, rebuild those relationships that I knew so well when I was young, and when the Internet -- the integrated circuit, lots of things came out of defense.

I can't recreate those days, but I can try to rebuild that bridge.  That's the other reason for being here, even despite everything that's going on in the headlines, because I need to be looking down the road, as well as dealing with today's problems.

MR. ALLISON:  So, you mentioned the fighting force of the future.  And in your three or four priorities, whenever you were talking about them, you talk about the force.

And in particular, even earlier today, you met with men and woman, many of whom are here, who were students, in service, but are students here at the Kennedy School, as well as vets and others -- as you do whenever you go anywhere.

So, for people that are not part of the military and not part of the defense establishment, what is this stuff about the force?  And what is it that you're -- I mean, what's -- make it more specific.

SEC. CARTER:  Well, good question -- let's -- some people say to themselves, they see something like what happens in Paris, and they say, you know what?  How can I make a difference?  How can I contribute?

And then they look around at these excellent people in uniform -- and that's one way.  And I'm proud to say Harvard has a ROTC program that it didn't -- you know, there were times where that wasn't the case.

I'm proud to say that a lot of people decide to serve in uniform.  But I -- not everybody is going to want to take that road.  And I -- so, I'm trying to create alternatives to that, as well as to improve the attractiveness of military service to give people an opportunity to try it, just come in for a year.

So, I'm working -- I've had a lot of new fellowships, the defense digital service -- I wish D.J. Patil was here from the White House.  But one of the fathers of that, along with the president.

And these are ways that people who are talented can give it a try.  And likewise, for the uniformed people there -- they -- I need to -- if I'm going to retain them, first of all, they're going to stay in, and the next generation's going to come in behind these fine people, I have to make it possible for them to do that.

It has to be compatible, reasonably, with a -- with family life, with coming to a place like the Kennedy School to improve themselves and get an education.

And so, we need to manage our work force in defense the way thoughtful companies do today.  We're not a company, we'll never be.  We're a profession of arms, it's different.  But that doesn't mean we can't learn.

And so, I want to learn from the Facebooks and so forth, and the LinkedIns -- I should say LinkedIn, especially -- about how we connect people to how they're thinking about their lives, because I want as many people to be a part of our mission as I can possibly attract.

MR. ALLISON:  Okay, so let me -- let me just push a little further on that.  So, let's imagine you're a student here now, and you're not in the military and you're not going to join the military.

What kind of things should folks -- what kind of people should be thinking about responding to that proposition?

SEC. CARTER:  Look at all...

MR. ALLISON:  And what kind of things would you have them do?

SEC. CARTER:  Look at all of our internship programs.  Look at all of our fellowship programs.

Look at the -- the way our field agencies and our laboratories advertise for people.  Sign up for a project; do something meaningful for a year or two.  Don't say it's forever, just give it a try.

We give you lots of what I call on-ramps.  And you can get on the highway, you don't have to travel all the way down the highway, maybe you'll get off the next exit.

But you'll have given it a try, and maybe you'll come back.  I mean, I was -- and Graham has been in and out of government.  Graham, I should say, is a principle adviser to me as he has been to presidents -- or secretaries of defense dating back to Caspar Weinberger.

And that's good.  So, I want people who can come in and out.  Likewise, for our people who are in, I want them to have the opportunity to go out and get an education, or to serve in a company for a time, to see what the rest of the world is like.

Because the government is important, but it can be isolating.  And so, you want to get out and see how the rest of the world is doing things.  That'll refresh our organization, that'll enliven our organization.  We don't have a enough of that.

So on-ramps, off-ramps.  Lots of things.  I talked to students today, student newspapers, and told them -- you know, tell -- spread the word -- I hope they are, about our fellowship program.

Somebody wants to do a summer, they want to do a year after they graduate.  Remember, a large fraction of college kids today go on -- do -- do a fellowship first.  Why not a fellowship with us?

MR. ALLISON:  Okay.  So, Ash, you may not want to go here, because you just spent three and a half hours being grilled up in the House Armed Services Committee.  After that, you should probably have a stiff drink and stay home. (Laughter.)

But in any case, thank goodness you came to visit us.  So, the topic was ISIS and how things are going.  So, what were your two or three main points that you were conveying to them?  And did they get it?

SEC. CARTER:  I think -- well, we have to defeat ISIL.  We will defeat ISIL.

The -- and we are constantly seeking and finding new ways to strike ISIL, and also to protect ourselves.  So, I was describing -- this was to the House Armed Services Committee, what we've done just in recent weeks.  This is, by the way, before Paris, although Paris is yet another -- should be, to everyone, yet another motivator for why we need to be absolutely serious about this. 

What we're doing, and as I told them about a number of things we're doing.  A lot of people don't think there're boots on the ground, that we're putting boots on the ground.  And we're doing a lot from the air, but there are, by the way, boots on the ground.  And I was telling them about some ways that we're going to do more of that.

Our strategy, you recall, is that we've learned from our 14 years in Iraq and Afghanistan that in order to have a lasting defeat, the lasting defeat of ISIL, we need to think ahead to what comes after they're defeated and to make sure they stay defeated.  That's the reason why we work with local forces, try to get them motivated, try to get them capable.

But that said, we have to enable them as well.  And we do that uniquely through the unique capabilities of the United States, as I was describing some of the ways that our special forces are working with capable and motivated ground forces.  They do exist in both Iraq and in Syria.

I was describing our expeditionary targeting force, which is a force that will essentially do raids throughout the territory of Syria, including unilaterally.  And in Iraq with the approval of the Iraqi government.  That's an important principle I can come back to.

But and the objective there will be to take out ISIL leadership, to capture ISIL leadership, to rescue hostages, as we've done.  To gather, as you know we did a similar raid.  To collect intelligence.  And to make ISIL wonder, as the way I put it today was when they go to bed at night who's going to be coming in the window? 

And that takes advantage of the agility, the range, the mobility, the precision, the intelligence that only we have.  So it's another way that we can leverage what we're good at. 

Then of course we're doing a lot more from the air.  That in turn depends upon having good intelligence, which allows us constantly to refine the way we're able to strike from the air. 

So, I was describing all that.  And then the last thing I'll say, Graham, is, and it's very important to say this, is look, you know the United States is and I think must lead in this fight.  But we need others to go with us.  So I was talking. 

Also the French were galvanized by what happened to them in Paris and so they're now in the game in a way that they weren't in Syria.  We're working with them.  That's a good thing. 

The U.K. is debating actually as we speak.  And but it's a decidedly mixed picture as you go around the world and you say who should be doing this. 

In Europe among the Gulf States who are the nearest to the danger and who have the most potentially to contribute because they can -- they have an insight and a sensitivity into local problems that is probably greater than we can aspire to. 

So we need them to do -- we need others to do more.  And that was the second thing I was describing today. 

And by the way, yesterday I guess I sent out letters to my counterparts in many, many countries detailing.  I said here's what you can do.  We've thought about it.  How about you sign up to do this, this and this. 

Because as I said, we will do more.  We will win.  But we need others to help us.  And we need, as I said, local forces in Syria and Iraq to sustain the defeat of ISIL after we defeat ISIL.

MR. ALLISON:  So let me take you to a broader sweep.  I mean one of the challenges as the secretary of Defense, you have to look at the whole world.  China or Russia or Iran or ISIL or the South China Sea or Cuba or whatever. 

If you imagine you're a student, when you were a student or you were the assistant professor when you were an assistant professor.  And you're thinking about topics that I could work on that by thinking about I might be able to advance our understanding of them in a way that would be helpful probably not to you but to your successor. 

What kind of topics do you feel like we don't have a good enough understanding of as you try to figure out what you would best do given the understanding we currently have?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, let me go to the other extreme, so to speak, from the real and palpable, clear danger associated with ISIL. 

You raised China.  Now, by the way, Joe Nye is here.  You are here.  There are lots of people who have worked on the dilemma posed by China's rise to security. 

I'm not one of those people who believes war, cold or otherwise, with China is likely.  It's certainly not desirable. 

But you don't get anything for free in this world.  We have to create the conditions under which change can occur, including a change of great consequence in the Asia-Pacific region in a way that is -- preserves the peace and stability. 

That the peace and stability that for 70 years has allowed prosperity and the rise of, first of Japan, then of South Korea, Taiwan, Southeast Asia.  Today China and India.  This is good.  But it has been able to occur because there has been peace and stability in the region. 

And the single most important factor in that 70-year history has been the American -- pivotal role of American military power in the region.  We aim to keep that going.

Now, that's not a matter of stopping China from rising.  It's on the contrary.  That's not our approach at all.  Our approach is everybody rises.  That's fine with us.  It's not to exclude.  Our approach has always been an inclusive one.  So we actually seek to include China, India.

I was in Vietnam a couple of months ago.  And you know some of us go back long enough to remember when it was otherwise with Vietnam.

But this is the single region of the world, Graham, which will be of greatest consequence to our nation's future.  And I say that for the very simple reason it's where half of humanity lives.  It's where half of the economic activity of the globe is. 

And so keeping peace and stability there is a very important thing to do.  And we need to do that.

Now, you know, that involves everybody else in the region and China.  Everybody needs to play their part. 

So that is a politico-military task of great consequence.  I pay a lot of attention to it.  We have something called the rebalance, which is a big and probably not the greatest word in the world.  But all it means is we aim to keep going what has worked for 70 years in this region and has allowed everyone, including China and their -- if Chinese think about it, and many do recognize that this has been great for China.  China can do its own thing, raise hundreds of millions out of poverty, develop in a way that is congenial to China. 

But again, you can't take it for granted, this environment of peace and security.  So we got to -- we do that.  And I've learned a lot from folks here at the Kennedy School, and they have pioneered a lot of the thinking in that regard.

I'll also say, because Joe's here and you're here, Graham, cyber's a whole other one of them.  I won't go into that now. 

But if you're trying to look down the road and think of big things, yes, there's ISIL today.  And you haven't asked about the Russians, but the Russians and Ukraine and Syria and there's plenty to worry about in the here and now.  But you need to look down the road as well because strategy is about having perspective in space and in time.

MR. ALLISON:  But let me push this a little further on this because I think one is to say with respect to the China and the rise of China and what could be a sufficiently good outcome for us over the next decade or two or three, you feel like you have a pretty good picture. 

So I'm asking what are some topics about which you feel the -- our current best thinking is still not good enough that is these are opportunities if I were a young person looking for a topic for my thesis or that was the book I was going to write or a research project.  There's gold in that field if I were to go there and dig.

SEC. CARTER:  Yes.  Unfortunately there aren't few of them, but I'll name a few. 

One I've already mentioned which is cyber where I think we're still groping for an understanding of what is fair and not fair, safe, not safe, how to keep the peace.  I know Joe's been doing some thinking about it.  Graham, you have as well. 

Old concepts like deterrence that were born near in reference to nuclear weapons.  Do they apply?  How do they apply to a domain like cyber?  That's an important one. 

I think the question of violent extremism is with us to stay.  And I don't mean ISIL.  I do believe we will defeat ISIL.  But if you ask is -- are people who's job is like mine is to worry about protecting our people, will we long worry about violent extremism? 

My prediction is yes, we will.  Because destructive power of greater and greater magnitude falls into the hands of smaller and smaller groups of human beings.  And as that -- and of course smaller groups and individuals exhibit more aberrant behavior, those of you who take statistics here know, than large groups do. 

And so you're always going to have somebody that's out there that's you know several standard deviations of estrangement from the rest of humanity.  And if they're able to get their hands, even in small numbers on hugely destructive weapons, that is a problem for society as a whole. 

And the institutions charged with protecting our people will be expected to do something about it.  I think that's part of our future, far into the future.  And as you look at things like social media-fueled extremism and so forth, I think it's quite clear that that presents some new challenges to security institutions.  And we need to think that through. 

You mentioned biology.  We're in the hub of biology.  Everybody thinks when they think about technology changing the world, they think about IT.  And of course, that's important too.  But I happen to be a believer that we will look back in decades to come at the revolution and the biological sciences as even more momentous.  And of course, like everything else, it's gonna be used for good and used for evil.

And our -- we're gonna be looked at to make sure we're on the good side of that and that we're protecting people, that we conduct ourselves ethically, and all kinds of other things that are really big deals, so the -- the idea that we've thought them through -- no, we haven't.  We need help.

MR. ALLISON:  So again, for people looking for topics to work on there were three good ones, and I think if we gave you time, you would give us thirty more.

So the way the -- goes is I asked a few questions to get started, and then invite the audience to ask questions.  There are two microphones here on the ground floor.  And there are two microphones on the loge.  Please go stand up at the microphone.  I will call on you.

The way the game works is we have only one speaker tonight, but we're glad to have him here and honored to have him here.  So please introduce yourself, ask your question briefly, and that you end with a question mark.

And let's start with this gentleman, please.

Q:  Good evening sir.  My name is Specialist Candwar Singh.  I serve in the United States Army, Massachusetts National Guard.

It's a real honor to hear you speak tonight.  I admire the work you and President Obama has -- have done to encourage more women to serve in combat rules as well as end Don't Ask Don't Tell, and diversify our military.

As you can see, I'm a practicing Sikh, with unshorn hair, beard, and turban.

Sikhs are prevented from serving in our military.  I, for example, can get discharged at any point if my chain of command doesn't agree with my articles of faith.  Twenty-seven generals wrote a letter to you recently requesting ending the presumptive ban on patriotic American Sikhs who want to serve our country.

So I want to understand what can we do to ensure anyone who's passionate and patriotic can serve our country without them having to give up on their religion?

SEC. CARTER:  I appreciate...

Q:  Thank you.

SEC. CARTER:  ... Your patriotism, and I appreciate what you're doing.  And I appreciate your faith, too, and what -- the -- the phrase is called religious accommodation.  I'm sure you know that phrase.  I haven't gotten the letter yet.  I'll tell you where I come from on that, and -- which is, you mentioned other forms of -- of recognition of society's diversity today, so if I can generalize a little bit from religious accommodation for a second -- by the way, the new Canadian defense minister's a Sikh, and -- by the way, extremely able and capable guy.  And he, you know, worked with the Canadian forces figuring out how to accommodate the -- the head, you know to a helmet -- it's all possible.

But I want -- taking it to the larger question about -- we have an all-volunteer force.  The only way to stay good is to make sure that we're drawing from the largest possible pool.  That's really important to me.  Now, fairness is too, don't get me wrong.  Fairness as -- as regard -- gender, sexual orientation, any -- religious, religion -- fairness is important too.  But mission effectiveness is absolutely critically important.

Mission effectiveness depends upon us having access to the largest possible pool of Americans.  'Cause this is an all-volunteer force.  I can't go out and draft people, whoever I want.

They need to join, and I need the best.  So I can't afford to -- unless I have a really good reason to hive off any part of our population and say, you can't serve simply because of some -- something that doesn't truly have consequence for their ability to serve.

Everybody who can contribute to our mission who -- who -- who can meet what are high standards and contribute to our mission, we need them.

It's not just a matter of giving them the opportunity, it's giving us the opportunity as a country to avail ourselves of their talent.

MR. ALLISON:  This gentleman in the loge.

Q:  Hello, my name is Wright Smith, I'm an undergraduate at Harvard. 

So one of the terms that you didn't mention in the discussion of ISIL was Bashar Assad.  Assad has played a major role in the radicalization in both Iraq and Syria, and so how does the United States continue to pressure Assad and now Iran and Russia to make some kind of diplomatic agreement with more moderate rebels without risking escalation, such as the Turkish shoot down of the Russian jet?

SEC. CARTER:  That's a very good question, and you're absolutely right that it is pivotal that there be a political transition in Syria.  We say that again, and again, and again.

The Syrian civil war has fueled the extremism that is represented by ISIL.  And that political transition must involve Bashar Assad moving on.  Now, I think it's important at the same time that we do that quickly, and we do it in a way that preserves as much as possible of what is decent and structured in -- on the territory of Syria so there can be a decent state that gives that long suffering people what they really deserve.  And I say that because, for example, the refugee phenomenon, which is a spill over is -- is in addition, to being a very sad thing to see is also the hollowing out -- because many of these are young males who are looking for work in Europe.  They are -- part of Syria's future.  And they are leaving because they don't see a future

If we're gonna have a future for Syria, there needs to be a political transition in -- it needs to happen quickly.

Now, that gets to who can influence that.  And that gets to the Russians.  And you mentioned the Russians.  And I'll just say one thing about the -- about the Russians.  I have talked to my Russian counterpart and I've been saying this constantly, the Russians got off to the wrong -- on the wrong foot on this.

They were doing something -- not only was -- was wrong headed, but backwards.  They said they were coming in to fight ISIL and to participate in the political transition in Syria and that's not what they've done.

They had been supporting Assad rather than trying to move him out, which they could contribute to because they obviously have influence with them.  And they've been -- they've been striking the people who are in the opposition who are -- who need to be part of the future of Syria.  They should be striking ISIL.

So it's backwards.  Now -- the -- Secretary Kerry is trying to work with the Russians to get them in the right place.  If they got in the right place and actually fought ISIL and moved to the political transition and Assad they would be doing what we're trying to do, and we could associate ourselves with what they're doing.

We can't associate ourselves with what they're doing now because it's doomed to fail.

MR. ALLISON:  Gentleman in the loge.

Q:  Good evening, gentlemen.  My name is Phillip Ramirez.  I'm a sophomore at the college and also a member of the Naval ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] program here at Harvard.

My question for you concerns an article The Atlantic wrote last month about the brain-drain in the military.

The first part of my question, do you indeed think, like, there is a brain-drain?  And how would you address the issues that the article brought up, such as the rigid pipeline that is really turning a lot of people away from the military?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, it is worry -- it is a concern to me.  And you raised two things, the last part was getting people to come in.  Let me talk about the problem of people leaving.

We have a generation, now, that reaching -- sort of captains, majors, who have vast experience.  They have done things that you never expected a young leader to do, in Iraq and Syria.  And they did it with incredible skill.

And they had this tremendous experience.  Now, they're at a point where they're saying, well, am I going to stick with this or not?

And it's important to me that the best stick with us.  Now, I go around and I talk to them, and I try to listen to them, what's going on in their heads -- and by the way, I talked to some of our -- the folks that you see before you today.

When you go home, and you talk to your spouse, what's the conversation like?  And how could I make that a conversation that leads you to stay?

Now, I can't change everything.  I can't -- if you're told to deploy, you have got to deploy.  I can't change that.  I can't move you around, I can give some consideration to that, but I can make it easier for you to have a family if you want to have a family.

I can make it easier for you to get a higher degree if you want a higher -- if you need a higher degree.  And I'm looking for way -- every way we can do.

We have a personnel management system that isn't as modern as our forces deserve.  And if we're going to retain, we've got to modernize it.

Now, am I going to lose people?  Yeah, I'm going to lose people.  And by the way, one of the really bright spots in our country is the -- is the veterans do extremely well in the work place.  Why?  Because people know they make incredibly good employees.

They have tremendous maturity, discipline, experience -- they're fantastic.

And so, they're hired very avidly.  Now, I'm of two minds about that.  You know, on the one hand, I hate to lose -- well, on the other hand, I say to myself, hey, you know, look, every time someone leaves and does well who was in the military, somebody in the lower ranks will look up and say, you know what?  They did well by being here.

Therefore, this is a good place to be from; therefore, it's a good place to be, so I'll join, or so I'll stay.

So, at the other end of the pipe, it's got it's good -- now, that still doesn't comfort me when good people are leaving.  But there is a silver lining to that cloud, which is that our people do well when they -- I'm incredibly proud of that.  I think that's fantastic, and it's a great recruiting tool.

MR. ALLISON:  This gentleman.

Q:  Thank you so much for being here, Mr. Secretary.

My name is Victor Cameron, I'm a junior at Harvard College, and I spent this past summer interning at the U.S. embassy in Lithuania.

So, tensions in the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have been growing dramatically ever since Russia's annexation of Crimea early last year.

I was wondering if you think Moscow's actions, such as troop build ups in Kaliningrad, or support for air bases in nearby Belarus will ever amount to a direction confrontation with NATO and potentially the United States on the Baltic front?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, we, and together with our NATO partners, need to act.  This is a little bit like the China thing, although starker, even, to make sure that that is unlikely, by making sure that the consequences of doing that are very clear to Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Now, I -- and now -- I've dealt with the Russians for a very long time, and have had many good feelings about Russian culture and so forth.  Graham has done historic work with respect to Russia, and there was a time when we though that Russia would go in a different direction.

That is apparent -- it is apparent now, that at least for now, that under Vladimir Putin, it is going in another direction, and we need to take that into account.  And NATO needs to as well.

What does that mean.  When we talk about an approach, and the way I've just characterized it, I know the president has, is strong and balanced.  Strong, meaning we're -- we are taking Russian military activity into account as we spend our budget, as we modernize, as we deploy forces in Europe, as we put heavy equipment -- including in the Baltics, which you're probably familiar with -- do rotational deployments.

And in NATO, where we're trying to -- the way I put it is update NATO's playbook.

NATO had the old playbook of, you know, big tank battle and the Fulda Gap, that isn't what's going to work now.  So, we have to rethink what is appropriate for the Baltic states and so forth.  And make sure that NATO can do what NATO needs to do, which is satisfy the provisions of Article 5, which says that the collective defense is the heart of NATO.

So, that's the strong part.  Now, I say, "and balanced," because I think -- I continue to hold the door open for a Russia, either after Vladimir Putin that does, what in my judgment is better for the welfare of the Russian people in the long-term, which is, don't spend all your money on military stuff, don't adventure, don't live under sanctions, don't self-isolate.  Be part of the world, part of the global economy.

Now, I think that's better for the Russian people in the long-run, but obviously, their government doesn't agree with that now.  Maybe sometime in the future, they will -- I think we need to hold that door open.

And we need to continue to be willing to work with them where it is possible to work with them.  Let us say, for example, with respect to Iranian nuclear program, which people here know a lot about, or the North Korean nuclear program.  Or maybe, just maybe, as has been discussed earlier, Syria, is they change -- if they get on the right foot and off of the wrong foot.

And so, we need to keep that door open.

MR. ALLISON:  Lady on the left.

Q:  Sir, I'm Lieutenant Diana Park, a first year student here at HAS.

As a Navy lieutenant, I would just like to ask you a couple more questions about your experience visiting the South China Sea.  Can you -- if you're able to, can you briefly go into the decision making process for you to embark the USS Roosevelt, whether it was an influence, or how much of an influence did our partners and allies in the region have in that decision?

And any takeaways from your trip?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, it's interesting.  For those of you who don't know, a few weeks ago, I was aboard the Theodore Roosevelt in the South China Sea.

Now, why was that even noticed, is the question you might ask?  American Naval vessels have been in the South China Sea for 70 years.

We weren't doing anything new.  Why was it in the newspapers?  Because China has been doing something new, namely, dredging islands in the South China Sea, and making unilateral claims to territory.

Now, they're not the only ones that are doing that out there.  There are other countries that have been doing the same.

We oppose that, we say, that's no way to stake claims, by China or anyone else.

And for our part -- it's not going to change what we do.  We're going to sail, fly, operate anywhere international law allows, like we have for decade upon decade upon decade.  So that's what I was doing. 

Now you said what do other people think about it?  Well, with me was the Malaysian defense minister.  And what does that tell you?  That tells you that in the region there, there are others who are concerned also about this conduct.  And basically the over-weaning and domineering attitude that goes with dredging. 

As I said, the Chinese aren't the only ones that are doing that, but they're the principle one that causes concern.  And it's having the effect of causing the entire region to rally in opposition to China.  Is that really what China wants in the end?  That's certainly not what we want. 

I told you, our approach is not to exclude.  Our approach is to include.  But if they self-exclude by behaving this way, that's what will happen.  And that's what you see happening. 

So everybody is -- all -- many, many countries in the region are seeking out more contact, more military-to-military activity with the United States from Vietnam to India to Australia, the Philippines, Malaysia, on and on, as well as you know, longstanding allies like Japan, South Korea where I was the same week.  And I mentioned Australia already. 

So that's the effect that it's having.  But I think the interesting point is it wasn't new that the American aircraft carrier was in the South China Sea.  It was interesting that I got so much press attention.  But that's because of what the Chinese are doing that's new, not because of what we're doing.

MR. ALLISON:  There's a spectacular photo in Ash's office of him and the Malaysian defense minister looking over the -- I don't remember which ship you're looking at...

SEC. CARTER:  It's the...

MR. ALLISON:  Maybe the Roosevelt?

SEC. CARTER:  It's the Roosevelt and other ones that were part of the same task group.  And we were on a V-22, by the way. 

MR. ALLISON:  And the Malaysian defense minister I would say looks terrified, as if he might be about to be pushed out or fall out.

So, this gentleman?

Q:  My name is (inaudible).  I'm from China.  And I'm the first year candidate at the Kennedy School. 

Actually my question also regarding the South China Sea.  I think -- I started to lay like during the half past century there from continuous like dispute around the territory, you know, understanding you talk about the issue. 

So, in your understanding, in the long run what will be the most likely scenario will be like in the South China Sea?  Is like the Chinese government was still like building the islands?  And at the same time U.S. Navy still like sail freely?  So what do your….

SEC. CARTER:  No.  I can't -- I don't know what is the most likely.  I can certainly say what is the most desirable.  And that would be a South China Sea in which territorial claims are settled peacefully and without military activities, where everyone has freedom of navigation.

Remember, those are the seas through which most of the world's commerce flows, including to China, both imports and exports, energy and everything else.  So we all depend upon the freedom of the commons. 

And I'm fine with having China you know at sea also.  They have a navy.  They can go anywhere the United States Navy goes.  And we can partner with China's navy, and we are in things like dealing with piracy, trafficking in human beings and drug trade. 

There's all kinds of common problems that we all have that affect the commons in the seas.  Why don't we work on all those things together instead of squabbling about whose map, you know, old map is -- beats somebody else's old map, or these places that -- where -- that everybody can share? 

Everybody can share those oceans.  There's no reason why anybody has to dominate them.  We're certainly not seeking to dominate them.  So that's the future I hope for. 

And I hope -- and by the way, just because you're from China I want to emphasize what I said earlier, which is China's not the only one, the only country that is making claims, that is doing dredging.  It happens to be doing it on a much larger scale than anyone else.

But our principle remains the same, which is we oppose all reclamation and further militarization.  We think everybody ought to knock it off.  That's no way to do things.  You can resolve these disputes, territorial disputes in some other way.  Let's not forget the big prize here, which is free commons for everyone. 

MR. ALLISON:  The loge?

Q:  Hi.  My name is Jacqueline.  I'm an MPP [Master in Public Policy] student here at the Kennedy School.

In one of my classes this semester we've talked a lot about the astounding rates of sexual assault in the U.S. military.  In recent years the Department of Defense has promised reforms on this issue. 

But the Military Justice Improvement Act has been blocked by the Senate twice now.  And earlier this year when the Annual Report on Sexual Assault came out you said that there clearly needs to be a lot more work to be done. 

And so my question's very simple.  It's, what is the Department of Defense currently doing to address military sexual assault?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, we're doing a lot, but we need to do more.  I tell you, I understand sexual assault is sadly widespread in society, including, by the way, on educational campuses.  But it is completely unacceptable in our culture.

Our culture is founded upon trust, honor, getting the best out of everyone.  That's part of the profession of arms.  It's part of the ethos.  And so it's very offensive to what we stand for, in my judgment.  We really can't have it.  And therefore we -- I -- no tolerance for it.

Now, we are -- as we -- one of the things I am proud of the Defense Department about is that we are up front about admitting issues that we have and working on them.  I think that's important also. 

So we're up front about this and working on it.  And the more we work on it, the -- actually the more we uncover other aspects of it that we also need to work on.  Let me give you an example. 

Not only do we need to stop sexual assault, but one thing we've come to understand recently is the prevalence of retaliation, which is a double whammy for the victim where people who report sexual assault become the victims of (inaudible) and so forth, which is yet another. 

So the more we learn, the more we have to do.  That's why I'm not satisfied until we don't have it at all and we've gotten all dimensions of it. 

You raised one particular dimension of it, which is important, which is the criminal justice aspect of it.  And you're right.  There's been a longstanding dispute among our lawyers and other lawyers and so forth about what is the best criminal justice system to deal with this offense. 

And I respect that there are two points of view on that question, no doubt about it.  It is -- the only thing I'd say about that is there's a lot else to the issue. 

I mean first of all, you don't want to be in the position where that crime has occurred.  We don't want a crime to occur in the first place. 

We need to worry about retaliation.  There're lots of different dimensions to this.  So this is a problem that I'm determined that we tackle. 

I end on a somewhat brighter note.  I hope that by being forthright and by throwing ourselves into solving this the way we threw ourselves into dealing with counterinsurgency and so forth, that we will learn things about how to get better that will benefit others, by the way, including educational institutions because I don't -- I wouldn't say Harvard particularly.

But everywhere where there are young people, genders mix, alcohol, you know there are a lot of conditions that are common to this crime.  And you know we've got to attack it in our society overall.

MR. ALLISON:  This gentleman, please.

Q:  Yes.  Hi.  My name's Sam Kessler.  We met earlier today.  I'm a student at the college.  Thank you so much again for being here.

My question is about something that you already referenced earlier today, which is the fact that cybersecurity is one of the greatest issues that our nation, really any nation, faces today.  Yet the international community still lacks any clear consensus or definitions on what comprises appropriate cyber activity.

Now, the U.N. has proposed a set of international cybersecurity norms.  And the United States and China recently made big news have taken some first steps with the cyber espionage agreement on observing those norms.  Yet still we have a lot -- a long ways to go.  And people speculate that that's because nations are afraid that implementing norms would compromise their defensive capabilities.

So basically my question to you is can you address those people who are afraid this would compromise our defensive capabilities?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I'm not among them really.  So I'm not sure I can address it. 

I think cyber defense is critical, and perfecting cyber defense is critically important.  And it is by far and away our highest priority because we depend, really abjectly, upon network function.  You know our plane, ships and tanks, all that stuff doesn't do anything unless they are connected now.

We have a younger generation of service members who've grown up with that technology.  That's what they expect.  It's one of the secret sauces of the effectiveness of our military.  So if it is vulnerable to attack or interruption, it's a critical -- what am I spending $600 billion a year for if I've got an Achilles heel? 

So that is job one.  And that mirrors the issue that we have in critical infrastructure, making sure our electrical system, for example.  Our electrical grid can't be taken down in cyber.  It is a mirror of what companies like Target face.  They depend on cybersecurity for their business. 

So there's a broad alignment of society's needs behind cyber defense.  I find that you know overwhelmingly important.  And that -- I made that very clear to our cyber officials.  That's job one for me.  Now, I -- there are other things we do in cyber space and -- but this is job one for us, this cyber defense.  And so, I'm very much aligned with the idea of improving cyber defenses.  And there are technology pieces to that, there are procedural pieces to that.  There are all kinds of things, and I believe they are norms.  I -- I believe -- you know, norms won't necessarily offer that sort of hard kind of protection, but norms do two things.

They keep many people most of the time from doing something bad, and they provide the rational that helps everyone else understand what must be done to protect them.  So norms are -- I should point out by the way, that both Joe and Graham and other people here or at the Kennedy School are working on this very question.  So I think norms are part of the future, as well.

But cyber defense -- critical, including to me.

MR. ALLISON:  I have the unfortunate responsibility of -- and apologies to everybody else that's up, but because of the scheduling, Secretary Carter has a hard stop at seven, and the clock here just showed seven. 

Let me say again on behalf of Harvard how proud we are of you, of your service and glad you came back to visit us. (Applause.)