First Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge Speaks to Bush School

October 15, 2017

The Mosbacher Institute and the Scowcroft Institute co-hosted Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania and the first secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security, on Tuesday, October 10, for the 2017 George H. W. Bush Foundation Distinguished Lecture Series by Wells Fargo. The program was held at the Presidential Conference Center, with 570 guests in attendance. The guests were treated to a conversation between Secretary Ridge and Bush School Dean Mark Welsh.

The evening began with a welcome from David Jones, CEO of the George H. W. Bush Library Foundation, who acknowledged special guests in attendance before ceding the podium to Andrew Natsios, director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs. Professor Natsios provided brief biographies of Secretary Ridge and Dean Welsh, followed by prerecorded remarks from Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. In his video message, Senator Hatch expressed regret that he was not able to join in person but urged those in attendance to remain vigilant against evolving threats to US security and do their part to join a strong, dynamic workforce that the senator described as the foundation of national defense. At the conclusion of the senator’s remarks, Secretary Ridge took the stage to share some comments.

In his opening statement, Secretary Ridge articulated his belief that the United States is stronger when it engages more with the rest of the world, not less strong. He identified the current threat landscape as one of the most complex the United States has ever faced, with the addition of the space and cyber dimensions to the traditional air, land, and sea. Next, Dean Welsh engaged Secretary Ridge in an on-stage conversation, beginning with a compliment to the secretary on his many roles in government, including military service. The Vietnam veteran responded by recognizing the many current and former service members and their families in the audience.  From there, the dean led a fast-paced question and answer session about emerging issues in national security. A theme from the evening was the development of new superpowers like China and Iran—which Secretary Ridge warned cannot be deterred from acquiring nuclear weapons—in the global threat landscape and the resurgence of Russia as a dominant player on the world stage. Secretary Ridge also frequently emphasized forging stronger international ties, a strategy that could bear fruit by mediating Russia’s influence and preventing radicalization of young people recruited by groups like ISIS.

Moving the discussion away from military security, Secretary Ridge and Dean Welsh discussed energy independence, incorporating a question submitted from the audience. Ridge suggested taking greater advantage of domestic energy resources to free more energy dependent countries from their reliance on Middle Eastern or Russian oil. The dean and the former secretary also spoke about cyber security, a threat Ridge considers especially salient for private entities. The discussion then moved to biosecurity, another concern raised by a member of the audience, as Secretary Ridge explained that he assesses the emergence of a novel pathogen from nature to be a greater threat than development of a biological weapon by a rogue nation. The talk concluded with Secretary Ridge offering words of encouragement for the many in attendance considering a career in public service, saying the fulfillment is greater than can be imagined.

The evening concluded with closing remarks from director of the Mosbacher Institute, Dr. Lori Taylor, who thanked the speakers and guests before reminding the audience of upcoming events. The crowd joined Dr. Taylor in thanking Secretary Ridge a final time for his engaging presentation and stimulating contribution to the George H. W. Bush Foundation Distinguished Lecture Series by Wells Fargo.

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