Panetta: Foreign language and culture training is essential to U.S. national security

Foreign language and culture training is “essential to our ability not only to protect our security, but frankly to be a nation that is well educated,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said yesterday during a wide-ranging conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the National Defense University.

Panetta’s remark came in response to the first audience question of the event, from an Army Colonel about the dearth of foreign language and culture training for military and intelligence services. Both Secretary Panetta and Secretary Clinton noted their views that such language and culture training is essential to U.S. security. Said Secretary Panetta:

“I certainly think we’ve got to look at creative ways to be able to deal with it. I’m a believer in foreign language training. I think, unfortunately, this country hasn’t devoted enough resources really to foreign language training. We’ve looked at the three Rs – reading, writing, and arithmetic – but we haven’t looked at reality of the world that we deal with. And in order for – I mean, when I was CIA director, I did not think you could be a good intelligence analyst or operations guy without knowing languages. And I believe that for the Defense Department and I think for the State Department, there’s a recognition that you need to have language in order to be able to relate to the world that we live in. So my goal would be, as we go through the budget, as we develop the restraints that we have to develop, that we are creative and not undermine the kind of teaching and language training that I think is essential to our ability not only to protect our security, but frankly to be a nation that is well educated.”

Secretary Clinton followed up with her agreement:

“Well, I certainly say amen to that, and I think your suggestion that we look for ways that we can better coordinate our language and culture education programs is a very good one.”