- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Secretary of Defense Carter Returns Home

| Spring 2016

Contribution and consequence. That’s how Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter described the “magic” of Harvard Kennedy School’s spirit of public service during a JFK Jr. Forum here in December. Carter, a former Kennedy School professor and Belfer Center director, joined Graham Allison and a forum full of students, faculty, and service members for a homecoming conversation on topics ranging from ISIS and the South China Sea to cyber threats and innovation at the Department of Defense.

Carter, who earned his doctorate in theoretical physics from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, has been awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Pentagon’s highest, on five separate occasions.

Secretary Carter was accompanied to the Kennedy School by his chief of staff Eric Rosenbach, former executive director for research at the Belfer Center, and his special assistant Sasha Rogers, former Belfer International and Global Affairs student fellow.


A Conversation with Secretary of Defense Carter

During his visit to Harvard Kennedy School in December, Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter discussed his connections with the Kennedy School, his goals for the Department of Defense, and his views on critical security issues facing the United States. Following his comments, he answered questions from the audience.

Note: remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Full transcript and video available at www.belfercenter.org/CarterTranscript

On Pride in his Alma Mater

“This is the house that Graham built. I’m proud to have been a part of it and obviously I’m better for it, and for everything I learned here, and for everything I was able to do. All around the world are Kennedy School students in all kinds of positions of consequence: American, non-American, uniformed, non-uniformed.”

On the Magic of Public Service

“Two things that were magical to me in my life: first of all, feeling like I could contribute something; and second, working on something of consequence—being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself. 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, and helping leave a better future for our children, that’s magic. And it makes up for all the other grief associated with public service.”

On Attracting the Best and Brightest

“It’s an all volunteer force, right? We don’t make anybody do this. So, it has to be attractive to the next generation of people who see their lives differently. 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. 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 the LinkedIns 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.”


“The objective will be to take out ISIL leadership, to capture ISIL leadership, to rescue hostages as we’ve done, and to make ISIL wonder, when they go to bed at night,who’s going to be coming in the window.”

On Russia’s Involvement in Syria

“They’ve been striking the people who are in the opposition who need to be part of the future of Syria. They should be striking ISIL. So it’s backwards. We can’t associate ourselves with what they’re doing now because it’s doomed to fail.”

On Violent Extremism

“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, ‘Are people whose job like mine is to worry about protecting our people, will we long worry about violent extremism?’ My prediction is yes, we will.”

On China and the Asia-Pacific

“This is the single region of the world which will be of greatest consequence to our nation’s future. And I say that for the very simple reason that 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.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Burek, Josh. Secretary of Defense Carter Returns Home.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Spring 2016).

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