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Gates: U.S. Toolbox to Confront Threats Requires More Than 'Just Hammers'

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2008 – The war on terror, particularly in Afghanistan , has put the United States and its allies and partners to the test as they strive to apply both “soft-” and “hard-power” capabilities to ward off violent extremism, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here tonight.

“Afghanistan is the test, on the grandest scale, of what we are trying to achieve when it comes to integrating the military and the civilian, the public and private, the national and international,” Gates said at the U.S. Institute of Peace’s first Dean Acheson lecture.

The lecture series honors the former secretary of state who Gates said had a clear understanding of the importance of applying the full spectrum of national power to confront Cold War threats that dominated the late 20th century. Acheson recognized the “ideological zeal and fighting power” that characterized Soviet communism, Gates noted, as well as the importance of U.S. “power and energy” in stopping its expansion.

Gates drew parallels to the violent extremism that he said menaces peace-loving people around the world today.

“It is an adversary without the resources of a great power, but with unlimited ideological zeal and no shortage of fighting power,” Gates said. This challenge demands “the full strength of America and its people,” he said, as encompassed in the new national defense strategy.

The United States must be prepared to change old ways of doing business and create new institutions at home nationally and nationally to deal with these threats, he said. “And our own national security toolbox must be well-equipped with more than just hammers.”

Gates called Afghanistan “the laboratory” for U.S. efforts to apply and fully integrate the full range of its national power and international cooperation to protect its security and vital interests.

He described the scope of the effort there, as 42 nations, hundreds of nongovernmental organizations, universities, development banks, the United Nations, the European Union and NATO all work together to help Afghanistan rise above the challenges it faces. These range from crushing poverty to a bumper opium crop to a ruthless and resilient insurgency and al-Qaida and other violent extremists.

“ Afghanistan has tested America ’s capacity – and the capacity of our allies and partners – to adapt institutions, policies and approaches that in many cases were formed in a different era for a different set of challenges,” Gates said.

Coalition warfare is nothing new, with positive examples set during World War II, in Korea in and the Persian Gulf, he said.

Yet despite decades of NATO preparation, Gates said, the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan are hamstrung by national caveats that limit how different countries’ militaries can go and what they can do. He conceded that some allies and partners have “stepped forward courageously – showing a willingness to take physical risks on the battlefield and political risks at home.”

“But many have defense budgets that are so low and coalition governments so precarious,” he continued, “that they cannot provide the quantity or type of forces needed for this kind of fight.”

A big factor in Afghanistan ’s success rests in the effort to rapidly train, equip and advise its army and police force, Gates said. He noted that until recently, few Western governments and militaries had this capability outside their Special Forces.

Ultimately, he said, the formula for success extends beyond military strength – to encompass economic development, reconstruction, improved governance, the development of modern institutions and counternarcotics strategy.

“To be successful, the entirety of the NATO alliance, the European Union, NGOs and other groups – the full panoply of military and civilian elements – must better integrate and coordinate with one another and also with the Afghan government,” he said. “These efforts today, however well-intentioned and even heroic, add up to less than the sum of the parts.”

Gates expressed hope that last week’s NATO defense ministerial conference in Budapest , Hungary , will result in concrete steps to reverse that equation. “Whether we make progress remains to be seen,” he said.

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Biographies:
Robert M. Gates


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