Dr. Ash Carter, 25th Secretary of Defense

Dr. Ashton B. Carter (L) in discussion with moderator Dan Schnur of the USC Annenberg School

On June 17th, 2019, the Los Angeles World Affairs Council had the honor of hosting Dr. Ashton B. Carter, the 25th Secretary of Defense for the United States of America (2015-2017) for a discussion on his time at the helm of the Pentagon and today’s most pressing international security threats.

On the major challenges to international security and the United States, Secretary Carter places China at the top of that list. The Secretary noted how difficult of a problem China is for the United States with the rhetorical question, “How could we have a Cold War with a country we trade with?” He went on to speak about how we could go about countering China even through their position on strength in the region and the world- multilateralism. The Trans-Pacific Partnership – the trade deal linking many Pacific Rim countries, which the U.S. pulled out of on President Trump’s second day in office – has “strategic importance” thanks to its multilateral nature and the fact that it was based on shared principles and values. He called it “as important as having another aircraft carrier” permanently stationed in the region, ready to go whenever it gets the call. By pulling out of the deal, according to the secretary, economic relationships along the Pacific Rim and Indo-Pacific turn into coercive relationships instead – relationships where China will likely win. 
China comes from a place of strength, as opposed to Russia, another topic of the evening. “Russia’s position is a weak one,” according to the Secretary. Russian President/autocrat/dictator Vladimir Putin simply “wants to screw us,” Carter said, with no real goals beyond that and enriching himself. 
We also briefly touched on North Korea, the ongoing negotiations by the Trump Administration and their dictator Kim Jung-Un, and why it is so important for us to prevent a war on the Korean Peninsula. It would be “a meat grinder… an intensity of which most living Americans have never seen.” The need to prevent these sorts of atrocities inflicted upon the Korean people – North and South Koreans alike – and the U.S. soldiers who would have to fight in that war is paramount. The problem with how these negotiations are going so far, according to the Secretary, is that too many Americans and Japanese, our closest ally in the region, are unhappy with the situation. 
Likely the most important part of Secretary Carter’s conversation with Mr. Dan Schnur, the moderator of the discussion, was on the Civil-Military divide within the United States, and how the Pentagon will recruit the best and brightest to join in on the Department of Defense’s mission of keeping America safe. He noted that because the DoD cannot compete with Silicon Valley in regards to pay, they have to compete on mission. Communicating that “the Department of Defense does more technological Research & Development than Apple, Microsoft, and Google combined,” keeping America safe, and protecting people around the world is what the DoD does is how Secretary Carter believes the Pentagon can attract and retain the best talent in the world.
Secretary Carter is Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His new book Inside the Five-Sided Box: Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon is out now.