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Royal College of Defence Studies (Washington, D.C.)

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Washington D.C., Wednesday, April 16, 2008
          I appreciate the kind introduction, Vice Admiral Style. And my thanks to the Royal College of Defence Studies for including me in the Washington segment of your program. Your visit offers an opportunity for our military to reaffirm the ties that bind us to our counterparts from the United Kingdom and other countries – and I know almost 50 countries represented this year – who have service members enrolled at the Royal College, a component of the United Kingdom’s National Defense Academy. And I hope that the visit has met your expectations so far.
          Strategic and security studies of the kind you are engaged in are more important than ever as we try to address the threats of the post-Cold War era: terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, global organized crime, narcotics trafficking, failed and failing states, and more. The burgeoning relationship between the Royal College of Defence Studies and NDU we hope will produce many new ideas.   We certainly need new ideas and need creative thinking if we are to meet the challenges of the present and the future – the world that you officers will inherit and lead.
          Many of you serve in armed forces that have troops in the Afghan campaign, the Iraqi  campaign, or both. Our British, Canadian, Australian, Danish, Dutch, and many other allies are doing a superb job in these operations. And of course in the British case we’ve seen a royal troop contribution – Prince Harry’s service in Afghanistan which, though it was cut short by a press leak, certainly made a good impression on Americans.
          Two weeks ago in Bucharest, the heads of state of the NATO allies and partner nations held a summit at which they recommitted to help the Afghans secure their democracy. I think this was a really big deal. I think two years ago in Riga, the allied leaders, when they signed up for the Afghan mission, really didn't know what they were getting into: a mission that has proven to be tougher and more dangerous than anticipated. Signing up again in Bucharest, knowing what they know now, and doing so unanimously, I think was an extraordinary statement.   More manpower was pledged there for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. No small achievement, given that many allied leaders face domestic opposition to this mission, and given the operational challenges of Afghanistan.
          It has been a tough fight there, as you know, but we have succeeded tactically on the battlefield over the past year. We have taken out many enemy commanders. The terrorists will not retake Afghanistan. Moreover, thanks to the skill and the sacrifice of Coalition troops and the growing competence of Afghan troops, a desperately poor and war-torn country is making strides in security, health care, education, and economic development. Improving the lives of millions of Afghan citizens and bolstering our own security will be the outcome of the Afghan mission, I have every confidence. As a Canadian patrol commander, Sergeant Malcolm Thomson, put it: “This is not about being a Christian or being a Muslim. We have something in common with these people. All they want is a better life for their people.”
          It is through this mission that NATO has developed a much more sophisticated understanding of the attributes needed by an international military alliance in the 21st century. And the main thing I wanted to discuss with you today is how this effort of reform and change mirrors what the United States military is trying to do in this new era.
            As students of war, you will know that small, irregular forces – insurgents, guerrillas, terrorists – have for centuries found ways to harass and frustrate larger, regular armies and sow chaos.  We can now expect asymmetric warfare to be the mainstay of the contemporary and future battlefield as well. Conducting war will be less a matter of applying force in the conventional military sense and more a matter of shaping behavior – of friends, adversaries, and most importantly, those in between.
           As the NATO Alliance and the U.S. military struggle to evolve from their Cold War posture, the basic components of the makeover, in both cases, are:
·        First, retooling the force for the counterinsurgency approach that is appropriate to asymmetric warfare; and
·        Second, trying to pull together a deployable civilian assistance that will mesh effectively with the military effort.
          For as we have learned, success in places like Afghanistan and Iraq will not come from military might alone. We agree with our allies that economic reconstruction, the rule of law, promotion of internal reconciliation and good governance, the training and equipping of indigenous security forces, and a host of other tasks are also needed.
          In the wake of the 2001 attacks on the United States, our government has been attempting to reshape processes and institutions that were geared toward a superpower conflict that is now nearly 20 years gone. We’ve moved to improve our ability to gather intelligence. And we’ve realized that our civilian instruments of national power are not where they should be. Not enough resources or people are being devoted to entities like the Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development, and what used to be called the United States  Information Agency.   After all of the cutbacks of the 1990s – an unwise “peace dividend” indulged in by administrations of both political parties – the United States is beginning to make up these shortfalls. We are beginning to resuscitate our ability to engage, assist, and communicate with other parts of the world – the “soft power” of which so much has been said.
          The Department of Defense has taken on many of the “soft” jobs that might have been assumed by civilian agencies in the past, although new resources have permitted the State Department to do more recently. Forced by circumstances, U.S. service men and women have stepped up to the task, with field artillerymen and tankers building schools and mentoring city councils – often in a language they don’t speak. They have done an admirable job. And as I’ve said before, our. military will need to retain and institutionalize these non-traditional capabilities.
          On the civilian side, the State Department is now working on establishing a civilian response corps to carry out the reconstruction activities I mentioned.  Both the President and the Secretary of State have asked for full funding for this initiative. But we also need new thinking about how to integrate the various governmental actions in these areas, and then how to integrate those with what is being undertaken in the private sector – in universities, in other non-governmental organizations – and finally, to better integrate all of that with the capabilities of our allies and friends.
          And now let me turn to those capabilities. As with the U.S. military, the NATO Alliance contends with a longstanding habit of dividing civilian and military operations. It is counterproductive. As an Alliance, we must be willing to dismantle some of the bureaucratic hurdles that have accumulated over the years.  This means more willingness to think and act differently – and quickly.  And to establish a funding mechanism for NATO similar to the U.S. Commander’s Emergency Response Fund. This tool has proven itself elsewhere but will, for NATO, require a more flexible approach to budgeting and funding. 
          Additionally, it is clear that we need a common set of training standards for all of the Coalition personnel going to Afghanistan – whether they are combat troops conducting counterinsurgency operations; civilians working in Provincial Reconstruction Teams; or members of operational mentoring and liaison teams.  Unless we are all on the same page – unless our efforts are tied together by similar tactics, training, and goals – then we will continue to be hampered by a lack of coordination. And the effectiveness of the Afghans, both civilian and military, will be eroded by inconsistent training.
          The Provincial Reconstruction Teams are a good example of the process of readjustment – both by NATO and by the U.S. military. The effort to staff them has taught us, the hard way, about the importance of cultivating, and quickly deploying, non-military expertise to combat zones. The PRTs were designed to bring in civilians experienced in agriculture, governance, and other aspects of development to work alongside the military to better the lives of the local population, a key tenet of any counterinsurgency fight.
In Afghanistan, the PRTs have grown from a single U.S. pilot project in 2002 to an international effort involving 26 teams in the country’s 34 provinces. Currently, 12 of the PRTs are led by the United States and 14 are led by other nations in the Coalition. Where they are on the ground – even in small numbers – we have seen tangible and often dramatic changes.  I would note in particular, on the military side, the training and equipping of security forces by our allies.
          We now have, as well, a special representative of the United Nations Secretary General in Afghanistan, Mr. Kai Eide of Norway.  I am confident he will bring greater coordination to the many and disparate reconstruction efforts, and greater coordination, in turn, between civil and military action so we can better help the Afghans build a free and secure country that will never again be a haven for extremists.
          As an old Cold Warrior, I believe in allies and alliances. They brought us victory in that “long twilight struggle,” as President Kennedy described it, and they are indispensible to meeting the security challenges of this century. And that is regardless of who comes to power in Washington next January. I have seen my task as Secretary of Defense as that of planting processes that can be sustained well into the future. No one can predict the future of the world, or of policy, but one thing I think you can expect in the years to come is a continued American reliance on collective defense – on the joint efforts that will help us deter the forces that would strike at our governments, our citizens, and our way of life.
          In closing, let me say that if you haven’t already, I hope you will take time to visit hallowed ground that is not too far from here. There are of course many venerated resting places for combat veterans all across this country. But it would be hard to overstate the esteem in which those buried at Arlington National Cemetery are held. Americans cherish the memory of those who gave their lives in defense of our nation and all that we believe in. We have a special place in our hearts, as well, for those who have fought and died alongside Americans, in conflicts dating back to the 19th century. The remains of not only U.S. military members, but men and women from nearly a dozen allied nations, rest at Arlington. The presence of these fallen heroes, some 60 of them, expresses our gratitude for shared sacrifice; our deep sadness at the cost; and our wish always to accord a place of high honor to comrades in arms of the United States of America.
          Thank you. 

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