COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS, FRANKLIN PIERCE LAW CENTER GRADUATION
“Stuck in the Past: Security for our Future”May 15, 2010
As prepared for delivery.
Dean Hutson, members of the faculty, honored graduates, family and friends. I'm delighted to be here this afternoon to celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2010.
This is a day you all worked very hard to reach. But no great accomplishment is achieved alone. Here with us this morning are the people who supported you when you stumbled and encouraged you to keep going - your families and friends. Today is their accomplishment as well.
As you embark on your new careers, you will face a world that is transforming at a rate unthinkable in past generations. The balance of power and influence are shifting in uncertain ways. Franklin Pierce's emphasis on innovation and its commitment to emerging fields of study - including intellectual property, e-Law, and social justice - will serve you well in the coming years as you navigate a complex, interconnected global economy.
We are here today to celebrate your graduation and the professional opportunities before you. But this is also a time to recognize and consider the challenges your generation will face.
As the recent Times Square bombing attempt and the failed Christmas Day attack have proven, the security of our country continues to be threatened and our enemies remain determined to attack us here at home. The nature of the threat we face has called into question our traditional notions of security. An indiscriminate enemy has, at times, tested our resolve to adhere to the civil liberties and constitutional rights that provide the foundation of our democracy.
I am proud to be here today speaking alongside Dean Hutson, who has served as a strong, well-respected and highly influential voice on these issues. I hope some of you will follow his lead and choose to grapple with these and other complex legal and constitutional questions in your careers.
But even for those of you who won't face these questions in your daily practice, as citizens, we must all consider how best to secure our nation.
As a United States Senator, protecting the American people is one of my most solemn responsibilities. It is increasingly clear that America's national security structures are ill-equipped to meet the threats of our rapidly globalizing and complex 21st Century world.
Over the past sixty years, our national security structures have served us well. The leaders of America's "Greatest Generation," were largely successful in setting our country on the right track to meet the threats of their day.
As a result of bold initiatives like the Marshall Plan and new institutions like NATO, the United Nations, and the International Monetary Fund, we succeeded in averting the massive economic turmoil and two world wars that marked the first half of the 20th Century. And, despite the invention of the most destructive weapon in history, we were able to avoid nuclear annihilation one arms control agreement at a time.
We benefitted tremendously from the foresight and innovation of those leaders that came before us, and we spent a generation creating a framework to protect our security. In large part, that same framework continues to exist today. Unfortunately, while the threats have changed dramatically, our infrastructure has not. The institutions, relationships and policies designed to protect Americans were designed for a different time and a different security environment.
On September 11th, 2001, we were all introduced to the devastation that could be inflicted upon us - not by an enemy superpower with an overwhelming nuclear arsenal - but rather by a small group of extremists plotting from caves halfway around the world. The non-state actor has rapidly become the biggest threat to our security. We have yet to take the lead of the "Greatest Generation" by adopting bold new institutions, policies and strategies to meet this elusive enemy.
In many ways, we continue to fight the security challenges of today with the tools of yesterday.
This dynamic is playing out in each of the most critical security challenges before us today, starting with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The U.S. military is the greatest in the world, and our soldiers' commitment to protecting the American people is truly inspiring. I traveled to Afghanistan last year and saw first-hand the challenges our men and women in uniform are facing on the ground. I was amazed at their ability to quickly adapt to keep up with the enemy. They remain capable of meeting any military test and have wholeheartedly accepted their new doctrine of counter-insurgency. Despite their heroic efforts, our troops continue to struggle on a new and complex battleground. Even though our military is armed with the most technologically advanced armaments in modern history, roadside bombs - the most rudimentary of weapons -are responsible for the vast majority of U.S. military deaths. Success in the wars of today requires a new kind of military superiority.
As all of our commanders have repeatedly stated, our new counter-insurgency approach cannot be achieved with military might alone. There is a civilian component to this battle that has failed to materialize over the last eight and a half years. During our trip, we traveled to the southern Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. More than seven years after this war began, we had only 13 American civilians working in an area known as the heartland of the Taliban. This was a stunningly low number in what is considered to be the pivotal region in this war. Though the Obama administration has begun to correct this problem, we remain severely underinvested in our civilian capacity.
This gap continues to challenge our military. Our soldiers are doing civilian work with tools for a military offensive. The F-22 - the most capable fighter plane the world has ever seen - cannot enforce good governance for the Afghan people. GPS-guided bombs - though more technologically advanced and precise than ever before - cannot create jobs, dig irrigation ditches, or build schools.
Perhaps the greatest challenge we face today is nuclear terrorism. The threat of a nuclear weapon falling into the wrong hands is a nightmare scenario with tremendously destabilizing effects around the globe. During the Cold War, we relied on the concept of mutually assured destruction to deter the use of these weapons. Today, parity between the two nuclear superpowers - the United States and Russia - is no longer sufficient to meet this threat. We cannot hope to secure rapidly spreading nuclear materials and know-how without the active participation of much of the rest of the world.
This is why the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the U.S. and Russia is so critical to American interests. Though a modest step in reducing the number of deployed nuclear weapons, the START treaty is an important down payment on pressing the rest of the world to live up to their responsibilities. We will need to constructively engage the entire international community if we are to meet the proliferation challenges posed by rogue regimes in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere. This will require an intensive and sustained effort, which the U.S. can lead, but will not be able to dictate alone.
We face equally challenging questions at home in adapting our domestic institutions to keep Americans safe. Bureaucratic decision-making and unwieldy, stove-piped institutions obstruct our ability to move and react quickly. We need flexible, streamlined homeland security structures capable of reacting swiftly in the face of immediate dangers and stopping attacks before they occur.
A key component in combating terrorism is our civilian legal system. Difficult questions over detainments, Miranda rights, civilian versus military courts, and unlawful enemy combatants have clouded our notions of what is legal, what is right, and what is safe.
Despite two Administrations -Republican and Democratic - that have sought actively to close Guantanamo Bay, it remains open because there is no agreement on how to handle detainees. In an effort to address this dilemma, four years ago the U.S. Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
Though there may be a role for the still unproven military tribunal system created under this legislation, it has not yet withstood significant constitutional scrutiny and has a limited record of success. The tribunal system has tried only three detainees. One ended in a plea bargain. One refused to put up a defense. And one defendant - Osama bin Laden's driver - was convicted and released to his home country of Yemen six months later. We can and must do better.
These are not black-and-white issues. There are no easy solutions. You should question anyone who tells you differently. As policy-makers, we are called to make difficult decisions and to act in the best interests of the American people, and we need to get started now. Each of you, as citizens, can play a part in this effort. Success will require a generational shift in thinking, and we no longer have the luxury of time.
I fervently believe that we can meet this test. For most of the 20th century, the United States underpinned global stability, and it is American strength that will continue to be the foundation for security into the 21st Century. We must realize that strength in this new age will not simply mean guns and bullets. American strength is the sum of many different parts. The power of American ideals has been as influential in the world as has the strength of our military. To be successful, we will need to leverage all components of American power. Economic strength, diplomatic initiative, and legal ingenuity will have to interact in coordination with our military might.
Reforming and adapting our military, and our diplomatic and domestic institutions to meet today's threats is difficult, but it is not a unique test. Each generation is called to meet the challenges of their day, and I am confident that, with your generation's leadership, America will once again rise to the occasion.
Thank you again for inviting me to spend this special day with you. And congratulations to each of you.
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