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Former Secretary of the Navy Talks National Security at IOP Forum

Former Secretary of the Navy Roy Mabus discussed shifting military strategies at an Institute of Politics forum last week.
Former Secretary of the Navy Roy Mabus discussed shifting military strategies at an Institute of Politics forum last week. By Ellen P. Cassidy
By Hable G. Fitsum, Contributing Writer

Former Secretary of the Navy and former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus urged greater investment in the U.S. military and continued financial support for Israel during a Harvard Institute of Politics Forum on Wednesday evening.

The conversation was moderated by Dana Helen Born — a retired Brigadier General and lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School —and Ryan P. Tierney ’24.

The talk began with Mabus’ evaluation of the current state of the American military’s capabilities to fulfill its purposes abroad. He said, “we have gotten ready for the new world in the last few years,” transitioning from a focus on “counterterror” and “land operations” to “more of the traditional, what the military has traditionally done.”

Mabus strongly encouraged continued research and development in the U.S. military and navy, attributing Ukraine’s success against the Russian navy without having one themselves to “unmanned drones” and “unmanned surface vehicles.”

“I think the future of conflict — you’re going to have to have many, many more unmanned platforms in the air, on the sea, under the sea, on land,” Mabus said.

The need to transition from “expensive carriers” to “uncrewed, or minimally crewed, vessels” comes not only from budgetary concerns, but concerns of what losses militaries can manage, he said.

“In a fight, ships get sunk. In a fight, planes get shot down,” Mabus added, “If you have unmanned or uncrewed ships, aircraft, underwater, those are acceptable losses, because those are things that can be replaced.”

Recalling his former role in the Navy, Mabus said “tradition” is one of the reasons why the Navy is moving slower than the Air Force, which already has more people flying drones than aircraft.

“If you are a ship driver and just getting commissioned, you want to be the captain of a DDG,” Mabus said. “You want to be the captain of a cruiser.”

Speaking to the future of the Navy, Mabus discussed falling recruitment numbers, which he partially attributed to the fact that 75 percent of Americans aged 17-24 fail to qualify, for health, education, or criminal record-related reasons. He also pointed to the gender disparities in people leaving the service, with the Navy losing twice as many women than men.

Mabus said he believes there needs to be a “more flexible way to be in the military, to not have to choose between service and family.”

“If you want to help the military, improve education, improve healthcare,” said Mabus.

In an interview with The Crimson after the event, Mabus also clarified his support for Biden ahead of the upcoming presidential elections.

“I think he’s been a transformational president,” Mabus said. “I think he’s been particularly good for the military and upholding the rule of law.”

Mabus also discussed the U.S.’s continued “defensive aid” support for Israel.

“I don’t think there’s a justification for the number of people being killed, particularly children,” he said, “and I don’t think that’s a justification for keeping aid out.”

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IOPHarvard Kennedy SchoolPolitical GroupsUniversityIsrael Palestine