WASHINGTON (AP) — Ashton Carter has left an extensive paper trail from his many years in Washington that suggests a sometimes hard-nosed view of policy puzzles like North Korea and Russia and a hint at the "candid advice" he may give President Barack Obama as his next defense secretary.
Carter, who if confirmed would be Obama's fourth Pentagon chief, has done three tours in the department. Obama announced Friday that he is nominating Carter as the successor to Chuck Hagel, who resigned under pressure from the White House last week.
In 1999 Carter and former Defense Secretary William Perry co-wrote a book, "Preventive Defense," spelling out dangers that, if mismanaged, could grow into "true A-list-scale threats" to the U.S.
First on their list: the risk that "Russia might descend into chaos, isolation and aggression." They called this the risk of a "Weimar Russia," harking back to the failures of the international system in dealing with xenophobic Germany after World War I. They wrote of their fear that Russia "could fall prey to its worst tendencies."
Russia today is among the biggest policy challenges facing the Obama administration, with its annexation of Crimea in March and subsequent military moves inside eastern Ukraine.
North Korea is on the worry list, too, with its defiance of the West and its ambition to develop a missile capable of hitting the U.S. with a nuclear warhead.
In June 2006, amid worldwide concern that North Korea was preparing to test such a long-range missile, Carter and Perry co-authored an opinion article in The Washington Post that took a hard line against North Korea.
"Should the United States allow a country openly hostile to it and armed with nuclear weapons to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. soil?" they wrote. "We believe not."
If North Korea were to persist in its launch preparations the United States should "immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy" the missile before it could be launched, they wrote. That could be done, they said, by hitting it with a submarine-launched cruise missile armed with a high-explosive warhead.
Carter, who served as deputy defense secretary from 2011 to 2013, spearheading a lot of budget priorities as the department moved to meet congressional demands to slash spending. He has most recently worked as a consultant with SBD Advisors. The firm also includes a number of top military names such as former Joint Chiefs chairman and retired Adm. Mike Mullen and former Defense Intelligence Agency head and former three-star Army Gen. Mike Flynn.
Unlike his predecessors over the past 30-plus years, Carter has served neither in the military nor in Congress. The last defense secretary without experience in uniform or national politics was Harold Brown, who led the Pentagon from 1977 to 1981.
A relative unknown figure nationally, Carter, 60, would be among the younger defense secretaries in recent years and the first to come of age after the Vietnam War.
He received undergraduate degrees in physics and medieval history at Yale University and later earned his doctorate in theoretical physics at Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar.
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