Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter Says We Can't Live With Nuclear North Korea

In an in-studio interview with On Point Wednesday, former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said he doesn't believe in letting North Korea keep its nuclear weapons.

"I am not in the camp of people who believe that North Korea has nuclear weapons and if we simply leave them alone it will just settle down," he told Tom Ashbrook.

Here are some more highlights from the interview:

Ash Carter in the On Point studio Wednesday. (Sarah Platt)
Ash Carter in the On Point studio Wednesday. (Sarah Platt)

On A Nuclear North Korea

"I think it's very hard for us to get used to North Korea having nuclear weapons. This is not Leonid Brezhnev's USSR where you can expect a stable situation if North Korea persists in these nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Kim Jon Un wants to survive, but he needs also to prove to his people that he's in charge and that he is leading them forward."

"Therefore, I am not in the camp of people who believe that North Korea has nuclear weapons and if we simply leave them alone it will just settle down. Therefore, I think we need to persist with deterrence and defense and give coercive diplomacy a shot. It might work in the sense of slowing and then reversing their ballistic missile and nuclear programs, that's the best case. If, after that effort, doesn't work, we will have prepared ourselves, our South Korean allies and Japanese allies...that positions us better for a dire circumstance if that actually occurs."

On War With North Korea

"Deterrence is about making it less likely that they actually start that war, which would be a war like the world has not seen since the last Korean War. I think what's very clear to North Korea is if North Korea attacks the United States or our friends and allies, that the United States will respond militarily, and that a war on the Korean peninsula will result in their defeat. We recognize that that is a very undesirable war to wage, on the other hand, I am confident we will win it."

On The Iran Deal

"I do think the Iran Deal is a good deal in the sense that it does what it was intended to do, which is block Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. However, it also needs to be said that the Iran deal never was, and could never have been, a grand bargain with Iran. Iran is still the "death to America" country."

"It is odd at the same time we are very understandably concerned about North Korea's nuclear program and very much regretting the history of the last 25 years at this state, also an avowed enemy of ours, has steadily moved to nuclear weapons to allow Iran to begin down the very same path."

On Expelling ISIS from Raqqa

"What you see in Raqqa today, and what you saw in Mosul and Iraq, were the expelling of ISIL from the two principal cities that it said allowed it to claim there was an Islamic State based upon this ideology. We can't have an ideology based on this barbarism...It's important that Americans know that there were people in Raqqa, it was there that most of the plots were hatched, where they were trying to inspire Americans and direct Americans to kill other Americans and Europeans as well. We needed to protect our people, and to do that, we needed to get into Raqqa and kill them or expel them. That has now been done. This is a great success for the U.S. military."

On U.S. Allies

"I think there are people in the United States who think that alliances that we have with our NATO countries are a gift that America gives to foreigners. They're not. They're one of the ways we get what we want. So by working with Europe, we protect ourselves first of all against Russia, and that's what the NATO alliance was born for. At the same time, I am in a long line of American leaders who have complained that the Europeans don't do enough in our defense. I told the Europeans very bluntly they needed to do more, at the same time, I believe the NATO alliance is in our interest."

On U.S. Diplomacy

"I think that clarity and consistency and principle are important in American foreign policy. There's no one else who can do what we do. I'd like to see more clarity, consistency and principle, no question about it. I think we miss an opportunity when we don't have that. Even if people have learned to not pay attention to every tweet, that's not as good as being inspired by the United States."

On Cybersecurity

"If you have a sense of security about cyberprotection, it is false. I simply assumed our networks were penetrated. We need to do more to protect our networks and strengthen them, but we also need to take into account that we need to protect ourselves even if our networks are vulnerable. I think individuals need to understand the same thing. When you go on and give people your personal information, don't believe it won't be revealed."

On Who Can Authorize Nuclear Weapons

"In our system, only the President of the United States may authorize these nuclear weapons. I was number two in the chain of command, I was not authorized...If I thought it was a rash act, I would do everything I could to try to talk the President out of that. You always have, as a senior civilian leader, the option of refusing to carry out a presidential order, in which case you need to resign...I think that this is why well before you get to that point, you as secretary of defense need to help the President understand his duties better. I hope that's what Jim Mattis is doing now."

You can listen to the full segment here


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