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Remarks by Secretary Hagel at the Defense One Summit, Washington, D.C.

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Q: Secretary Hagel, thank you for joining us today. We're very excited to have you here to sit down and talk. I believe this is your first sit-down live since taking office. Is that true?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: I wouldn't describe it sit-down live. I've been counted out before, but I -- I think I had a couple of sit-down opportunities, but never with anyone as famous as you. (Laughter.)

Q: Thanks. Thanks for that. That's for my mother, who's right there.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, we do what we can, Kevin, you know. Congratulations. This is a big deal. I know Defense One launches a big enterprise here today, and to Tim and Stephanie and all of you, so I know these efforts don't come together easily or quickly. And I am particularly proud that we had so many of our senior people here today. I know you have some in the audience, but many have spoken. And I think we follow the comptroller.

Q: We did. We did. So you've got to live up to that somehow.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, we refer to him as Happy Hale. He's always... (Laughter.)

He's full of good news and cheer. (Laughter.)

I'm surprised you're not all on the roof ready to jump. (Laughter.)

So wherever you are, Robert, we're grateful for you. Maybe he's -- he's jumped. I don't know where he is. (Laughter.)

Q: Well, we're glad to have you here, so we'll jump right in. I wanted to pick up, I think, today -- I wanted to pick up where you left off with your speech last week at CSIS, where you laid out some bit of your vision of where we're going next with global security, U.S. responsibilities in global security, and the use of military force and some of those parameters and boundaries. And I think it's part of what we're doing here with Defense One in talking about and covering the new era of defense, is exactly that. We're in this new period.

So in the speech, you said you called for use of the military that should be used just judiciously and warned against overdependence of the military. So tell us more, personally where you come -- where you come to this in your vision. What are the boundaries for the military going forward and for the use of force in your mind?

SEC. HAGEL: First, I think it's always important to frame up the larger dimension of our government and each agency and department's role in the government. And then as you do that, you get a further framework of the responsibilities of each department and agency.

And it's interesting, as I was sitting the other day in the cabinet room -- this is part of my answer, but I'll get to the, I think, real essence of what you want out of this -- this question -- but the senior member of the president's cabinet is the secretary of state. And I know every third-grader knows this. The second most senior cabinet member is the secretary of sreasury. The third is the attorney general. And the fourth is the secretary of war. Now, we changed that, as you know, after World War II to be secretary of defense.

And I wasn't around in those days when this glorious republic was formed, but I do read occasionally. There was a reason for that, and I think it was pretty obvious. The Department of Defense has a clear responsibility, and that is the security of this country, the defense of the United States of America. How we fit in, we being the three million men and women who work within that framework of the Defense Department, that's civilians, National Guard, reserves, and active uniform, our role is to be part of helping shape a foreign policy, but we are but a tool, but a part of foreign policy, recognizing that our main responsibility is the security of this country.

The way it's framed, we have -- we have many pieces to that. We work now closely with the Department of Homeland Security, with certainly Treasury, and obviously with State, with FEMA. Every dimension of our country, of our government, we touch in some way. And so when you asked the question, how do I see our role in this? That's where I see it the first, understanding our role.

Obviously, when we are at war, that's a decision the Department of Defense does not make. The commander-in-chief, the president of the United States makes that decision as to entering this country into a conflict. Now, we haven't declared war, which is the responsibility of the Congress for a long time, I think since '41, 1941, at the beginning of World War II.

So we are but a component and a tool. We help shape it. We fight wars. We advise. We do all the things that Americans expect us to do. And you look at the sophistication of our Defense Department today, when you look at all the components of the Defense Department, starting with the services -- we had, for example, this week the nine combatant commanders in town, met with the president Tuesday. He and Mrs. Obama hosted a very, very nice dinner for everybody Tuesday night. The combatant commanders reported directly to the secretary of sefense. That's another piece of this, but they fit also within the framework of each service.

Then you look at the civilian components. Many you've heard from today, different parts of the civilian component of the Department of Defense. And then you look at humanitarian assistance that we give, natural disaster assistance. No better example of that than what's going on in the Philippines right now, where we have the carrier battle group, the George Washington, is just steamed in to the Philippines.

So I know I'm taking a long time on this answer, but I think there are a lot of components to the answer. And I don't think it's a glib yes, no, maybe, this is our role. We have -- we have many roles, but the primary role is a security and defense of this country.

Q: Well, is that okay -- is that an okay-thing? I say, you know, it's -- your CSI speech -- CSIS speech -- just reminded me of the similar speeches by your predecessors. You know, Secretary Gates was on stage with Secretary Clinton saying we need more State Department, more diplomacy, more foreign aid, more other tools of national security than just the military. But here we are, several years later, making the same type of call. What needs to change, in your mind, for that to actually happen? Or does nothing have to change and this is the way forward now, the military is going to do the humanitarian aid, the military is going to do the nation-building, the military is going to do everything that's asked of it at any time?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, first, you start with, where's the capacity? I mean, the military, within the military, within the Department of Defense, resides most of that kind of capacity that we have. I mean, there's no other agency or department in our government that has the kind of capacity that the military has, whether it's airlift or people or resources or forward deployment, access to bases. I mean, that's why the Department of Defense is called upon to do so much. Many times maybe we overload our circuits. But that's not our call. The president makes that call. Others make that decision for us. We participate in that.

But let me get back to your question. We are a tool, we are part of, as I said earlier, the larger structure of government. So when Gates talked about soft power, yes, when I was in the Senate, I often would talk about that, as well, because when you look -- look at all the components of our national security interests, you probably -- if you really want to define it down to the lowest common denominator, it's our economic interests.

If a nation does not have a strong economy, then eventually you won't have much of anything, because you can't afford it, because there's no structure to carry it, to support it, to built it, no opportunities, no jobs. So you use your economic powers and strengths, you use your diplomatic power and strength, you use your culture, education, trade, commerce, Pentagon, security, stability.

We are part of all that in framing up the kind of world that we want. And I think most people in the world of seven billion people want is a secure, stable world.

If you don't have secure stable dimensions in a country or sea lanes or a sea, most likely your prospects for a prosperous nation and jobs and futures for your children isn't going to be very good, because of trouble spots around the world where there is no stability, there is no security. So we are components of the larger framework of focusing our national interest tools and resources in an organized way.

What Gates used to talk about, what many of us did, I completely agree with. It's not you use one or the other. You use them all together in a smart, judicious, wise focused way.

Q: So with this -- I think your critics would say this sounds like Chuck Hagel, the noninterventionist that we were warned about before your confirmation hearings. Are you a noninterventionist?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I love the simplicity of labels.

Q: Happy to oblige.

SEC. HAGEL: No, you didn't quote yourself on that, by the way. Listen, there is no one in the Senate in the 12 years I was there -- I've been this way long before I got to the Senate -- I did business all over the world -- who was more of an internationalist than Chuck Hagel. Do I believe we should go invade and occupy everywhere when we don't get our way? No. I don't think that's what America is about. I don't think where we have been, where we are going, I don't think that's the way you resolve problems.

No, I believe in America's engagement in the world. In fact, I've been criticized for that. But everybody has their own opinion on that, but I get that. But that's their opinion.

But, no, we have a future. We're an internationalist country. We always have been. We've gone through our periods of isolationism. It hasn't worked out particularly well, probably helped bring on two world wars. But I'll let the smart historians figure that out. But I'm not an interventionist to the point where we use our military unilaterally, but I am surely an internationalist, because that's our future.

Q: Well, I ask because, you know, in the past year, we had the Syria crisis come to a head with the very public debate of "should we or shouldn't we" with military force and red lines. And to bring it back, I guess, to that first question of what are these -- what are the boundaries of when we're going to use military force or what are the parameters, is there a way to formulate any kind of, you know, ground rules for going forward for the United States, like similar off of what the president's U.N. speech, so that we don't have to have another two-year cycle of "should we or shouldn't we" every time a Syria comes up?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think, Kevin, using that as an example, every time a Syria comes up, I mean, we've got a number of variations of Syria out there right now in the Middle East. Look at what's going on in Egypt. Syria is probably the worst case. You've got problems in Iraq. Southern Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah. I mean, you can go into North Africa. There are a lot of trouble spots where you could probably in some general way frame up, well, what is our general framework boundary policy on when to use force and when not to?

I wish it was that simple. It's not that simple. We have allies. We have partnerships. We have defense treaties. We have our national interests, which should always guide everything, that's as it is with each country. Every country responds in its own self-interest. We surely do. Nothing wrong with that. It's predictable. We run into trouble when we run into the unpredictability out there. What's North Korea going to do next? What's Iran going to do next? There's where we have a pretty murky, dangerous set-up.

But to be able to just frame up in a neat little way, "These are the boundaries on when we use military force and when we don't," I don't think the world's that simple, nor do I believe we're driving in that kind of a way, where the world is going to get simpler. The world is going to become more complicated. It's more interconnected. It is now more bound into each other's spheres of influence and prosperity than we've ever seen. We're going to put two billion more people on the face of the Earth here in the next 25 years. Water, resources, clean air, everything else that is basic to the survivability of man, is going to be part of what happens next.

So we use our military force in, I think -- I think we should -- in a judicious, careful, wise way when we think it's clearly in our interests. And what we're doing -- what the president has -- this president over the last five years has been moving toward and very clearly defining in his defense strategic guidance -- and I think it's exactly the way to do it -- is building -- helping build capacity with our partners and with our allies.

We were talking the other day about the rebalance to the Asia Pacific. This isn't just a military-to-military rebalance. This is trade. You were with me when we went over there. You know some of the things I said. It's trade. It's commerce. It's education. It's culture. It's relationships. The military's part of that, and military can play, I think, a very important role military-to-military. We're doing that with the Chinese, the Russian and others.

I mean, we're very clear-eyed about that, but aren't we smarter if bring the Russians and the Chinese in, they bring us in, so at least we get a better understanding of each other's intentions? We get a better understanding of each other.

Clearly, the Chinese are going to continue to move in the direction they are. We're going to continue to do the things in our interests. The Russians will continue to do the things in their interests. But it is my sense, just if nothing else a clear reading of history, if you don't try to bring some framework here of exchange and engagement into this, then I think the alternative is going to be pretty clear what happens, because we will run into intersections here, whether it's in the East or South China Sea or somewhere, where there will -- something will happen. Something will happen. And it won't be good.

Q: Well, I want to ask you more about engagement, but you bring up the simplicity of labels (inaudible) these definitions. And, you know, I brought up your confirmation hearing for a reason beforehand, you know? And I think you had the pleasure of being introduced to Senator Ted Cruz in a way that the rest of the country felt months later in your -- if you recall your second confirmation hearing, as I call it, when they had the vote before the vote.

And I brought up this quote. You know, Ted Cruz at the same said, "If Chuck Hagel is confirmed, it will make military conflict in the next four years substantially more likely." And at that time, he was talking about Iran, if you call, and saying if -- it would mean that Iran would feel they were -- so they had permission somehow to accelerate towards nuclear capabilities, which would then would mean the United States would have to send troops and troops would die. That was a pretty heavy charge. Even some Republicans in the room bristled when it happened.

You know, this is part of a new -- a new message outside of Congress lately, where I think you have an old guard that has left and a new guard coming in. We have some younger members of Congress in today. But -- sorry to reference old guard, but you left the Senate. Senator Biden's left the Senate. Kerry's out of the Senate. There's, you know, Kennedy, Bill Young, who just passed, a lot of these figureheads of internationalist thinking are gone now. So you have a new -- a new attitude out of Congress that seems to be more into the black-and-white and the labeling that you're pushing back against.

How do -- so my question is, how do politics these days affect not just your job, but what you -- what this vision of yours for the United States' role, being nuanced, using economics, using diplomacy, when that's not the -- you know, you don't get that kind of a nuance coming out of Capitol Hill, at least.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think you're maybe lumping everybody together on Capitol Hill.

Q: That's true.

SEC. HAGEL: I, first of all, have always believed, not just because I spent 12 years in the United States Senate, before that I was -- my first jobs were on the House side in the early '70s, working for a congressman, I have as much respect for the institution which is reflected in Article I of the Constitution, the Congress, as I do for any institution certainly in this country.

They -- constitutionally, they are partners. They have to be partners, for no other reason than they control the money. But the Congress has to be a partner in this. The Congress is a partner. I can't unilaterally -- the president can't unilaterally just make decisions on what we're going to do without authorization from Congress, without the appropriations from Congress.

Plus, you want the input from Congress. They are closest to the people. They represent this republic. That's the way it was set up. And...

Q: Is it just a new attitude that's a reflection of the people, then, that's -- maybe not new attitude, but...

SEC. HAGEL: Well, you read the polls. I mean, you see what the polls are about -- whether it's Pew or Gallup, whether it's Syria, whether it's coming out of Afghanistan as we are, or whether it's a reflection on Iraq. No more wars, no more Middle East. I mean, I'm putting it very simply, but you know what the numbers are.

Congress reflects the people. That's the way democracies work. Democracies also are supposed to work based on consensus and compromise. One group doesn't usually get his or her way all the time, or I'll shut down government, or I'll threaten some other recourse if I don't get my way. Democracies can't work that way. We're 320 million people, different sizes, shapes, colors, creeds, philosophies, our strength. So that's the first part of the answer to your question about the Congress and your reflections on this.

This morning, I had a senator in for an hour, a private conversation with her on a number of things. I talked to two more this morning. Last week, I had a number of members in for a private breakfast. I'm reaching out all the time. They reach out to me. It has to work that way.

And I know the president, the vice president do that, all the cabinet members do. There are varying ideas and philosophies about where you use and when you use your military and engagement and different ideas on Iran. But that's democracy. And I'm not afraid of that.

But we do at some point have to govern, too. We can't just defer tough decisions by, well, we'll just do some sequestration for a while or we'll shut down the government for 16 days and think that's governing. That's not governing. It's tough to govern. And I -- and I have great admiration for members of Congress, for the president, elected members at any level, whether it's a mayor or governor today. I think today is as difficult to govern in this country, in this complicated world as it's ever been.

Q: So you mentioned compromise. You mentioned Iran, so we'll pivot -- to use the word -- back to Iran. You know, there have been some writings lately that, while the negotiations on Iran are going on about just the nuclear issue, we could be in a new era, a new moment for a much -- a bigger shift, a bigger thinking, a bigger possible change for all the U.S. alliances in the region and the strategic balance in the region.

So a couple things in our remaining time, if you could, you know, give us your thoughts on Iran and on the state of the negotiations right now. Are you as concerned as the concern you hear or as confident as those who are confident? And for the larger picture, of -- is this a moment to -- to practice some of that engagement that you've been preaching?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think we are practicing that engagement, not because I say it. I think the...

Q: I mean, I'll say it another way. Are the common interests with Iran -- you talk a lot about finding common interests...

SEC. HAGEL: Yes.

Q: ... with adversaries. And if there are, what are they? What -- where do you see that?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think that's -- I think that's where you've always got to start with anyone. Try to -- try to define some kind of a relationship based on common interests. We're not always going to agree with everybody, and we're going to have varying degrees and dynamics and dimensions of interests. I mean, that's just the way the world works.

But aren't we smarter if we can anchor some kind of a relationship based on a common interest? We can go to war, if that's what you want to do. I know a little bit about war. I've been to one. Not a happy time for anybody. There's no glory in war. There's only suffering. If you have to go to war, if that's the only recourse, you've got to do that.

But you better think this thing through before you want to jump off into a war and make these great pronouncements, because there are consequences to war. We just had 12 years of war. We're still in a war. Now, I'll let history figure all that out, but that's what's reflected in the poll numbers that we were just talking about. And I do think this Congress is probably more cautious about that.

I mean, look at just a few months ago, we went up to Congress regarding Syria. Boy, there was a pretty clear message on where the American people and Congress are on using military force in Syria. Now, it wasn't everybody, certainly an overwhelming dimension.

But back to your -- your question. I think in Iran, first, you've always got to be clear-eyed in these things. You've got to understand the realities. You understand in Iran's case they are clearly, have been a very dangerous, lethal state sponsor of terrorism. They cause tremendous trouble all over the Middle East for us, for a lot of nations. So you've got to also start with the clarity of understanding what you're dealing with.

Now, if we can move toward some common interest to move to some higher ground, to some possible, potential resolution to a problem, aren't we smarter to do that? Engagement is not surrender. It's not appeasement. And engagement is not negotiation.

I mean, I felt sorry for Secretary Kerry, because so many people have jumped into this, "Well, he didn't get anything and he didn't get a deal." Wait a minute. We've been literally at some kind of an informal, unofficial war with Iran since 1979. Now, does anybody really think that we're all going to get together in a P5-plus-one for a week and come out of that deal with some tidy little agreement? The Iranians have political issues; we have political issues; our partners have political issues. There are political issues in the Middle East. So this is -- it's going to take time, if we're going to be able to move somewhere, onto a higher -- a higher, hopefully, plane of possibility.

At the same time, same time, you always keep a ready, capable military that is second-to-none in the world. I don't think that we would have had any kind of opening to get to where we are with chemical weapons in Syria with the Russians, the United Nations Security Council, and the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) in there, and actually we're doing some things, actually we're starting to destroy chemical weapons in Syria, without the real, live threat of military force against Syria. And the president was very clear on that.

So this goes kind of back to your first questions, whether it's Iran or Syria. It's, how do you smartly use your military to influence outcomes? And it doesn't always come down to that alone, but it is part of the larger focus of purpose. What is the purpose of your power? And I think that's -- I think that's always much the essence of leadership and great nations' responsibility.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I can't believe I'm already at the end of our time. It's happened too fast for me. But you're off to...

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.

Q: ... Manama Dialogue next? Is that correct?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, not next, but...

Q: Soon?

SEC. HAGEL: ... I'm going to Halifax next -- for the weather.

(Laughter.)

Next week, which actually will be very interesting. We've got 25 defense ministers up there, and you know about that. And we're going to talk a lot about the Arctic and what's coming up. I think that's going to be a very critical part of the next set of big foreign policy, energy, commercial challenges for all of us. And we need to really pay attention to that. So I'm glad we're going to be there.

And then I think we -- Thanksgiving, I'm going to go out and track down that turkey. And then Manama is after that.

Q: All right. Well, good luck to the turkey.

SEC. HAGEL: And we're going to do a little budget work. Hale's figured that out, but -- as he probably told you all, so...

Q: Well, I think you -- it goes to, like you said, the breadth of everything the military's being asked to do, that we've talked about Syria and Iran and even ice caps and turkeys that we didn't even talk about Afghanistan. So come back next time, and we'll get farther in that.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, you're very generous to have so many of the Defense Department people over here, and I'm very proud of all of them. I'm proud that they come and do these kinds of forums, because I think education, information exchange is really important for all of us, and it gives you all a change through you and others to kind of put us on the spot a little bit and ask us questions. And I hope that our guys are able to inform a little more, too.

And so I'm always grateful for these opportunities. Thank you.

Q: My pleasure. Ladies and gentlemen, please, a round of applause for the secretary of defense. Thank you.

SEC. HAGEL: Thanks, Kevin. Thank you.


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