Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter On The State Of The World | On Point

Defense Secretary Ash Carter calls on a reporter during a joint news conference Monday, Aug. 29, 2016. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

On the brink of who knows what with North Korea and Iran, we talk with Obama-era Defense Secretary Ash Carter about the U.S. military and the world.

In the week when Republican senator Bob Corker warns of a president putting us on the path to World War III, we wonder what Secretary of Defense James Mattis is thinking. He’s a little busy. But Ash Carter might have a decent idea. Carter served as Defense Secretary before Mattis, from 2015 to 2017. He saw all these challenges first hand: North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, ISIS. What’s he thinking now? We’ll ask. This hour, On Point: We talk with former US Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter. —Tom Ashbrook


Ash Carter, former Secretary of Defense during the Obama Administration (2015-2017). Professor of technology and global affairs. Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School. Innovation Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Former Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer in the Department of Defense.

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This is a candid and very revealing,conversation with Ashton Carter, but it is severely limited.  As is often the case with prominent public figures in Tom Ashbrook’s On Point program, the conversation was only begun when it had to end.

There are many other questions which could have been asked — difficult ones that glided by without enough time for reflection.  For example, it seems apparent that Mr. Carter is proud of his “coercive diplomacy” approach toward North Korea and, perhaps, to the rest of Asia as well, but it is unclear that this has left the U.S. in a more secure situation today or that Ashton Carter’s role has moved the U.S. towards policies of peace.  In fact, as he admits in the interview he worked as early as 1994 on plans for a re-emptive strike on North Korean missile installations.

It is, perhaps, helpful to keep in mind that Ashton Carter has not served in as an active duty military soldier.  He was trained in nuclear science, and he has made a career ever since his days as a Rhodes Scholar by working on nuclear issues.  While he was an Undersecretary of Defense in the Obama administration one of his contributions was to develop plans for the “modernization” and expansion of the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

This pattern of advocacy and habitual thinking should give us pause to think about what is happening to our foreign policy — perhaps particularly in light of President Eisenhower’s seminal warning about the “military-industrial complex.   In the academic circles and among the military generals it may have become common parlance to talk of pre-emptive strikes and “coercive diplomacy,” but shouldn’t American citizens sit up and take notice of the dangers of “normalizing” this kind of vocabulary and the ensuing mindset that could all too easily lead the world to catastrophe — in seconds?

Some further items could be added to “Tom’s Reading List…” to extend the discussion including

Perhaps Tom Ashbrook could in the future interview a different former Defense Secretary to get an alternative view on our nuclear outlook.  After all, the British did:

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