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Gates Calls for Building Foreign Troops’ Capacity

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2010 – The United States should devote more energy and overseas aid dollars towards developing the local security forces of other countries, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said tonight in a speech advocating an overhaul of U.S. foreign capacity building.

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Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Boyd, left, and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, right, daughter of former President Richard Nixon, present the Nixon Center Distinguished Service Award to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates during a dinner in his honor in Washington, D.C., Feb. 24, 2010. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen
  

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With the prospect of grand scale nation-building projects like Afghanistan and Iraq unlikely in the near future, Gates said, the U.S. should narrow its focus to smaller projects geared towards training indigenous troops and foreign security sectors to maintain their own national defense concerns.

“I believe our ability to help other countries better provide for their own security will be a key and enduring test of America's global leadership in the 21st century, and a critical part of protecting our own security,” he said during an event sponsored by the foreign policy think-tank the Nixon Center, which bestowed on Gates its Distinguished Service Award.

The remarks amplified Gates’ familiar refrain that the U.S. should seek to identify developing problems abroad and assist foreign governments through nonmilitary means, a tack that represents a departure from what the secretary has referred to as a “creeping militarization” in American foreign policy.

Gates, who has received praise for his role as an outspoken advocate of non-military functions like diplomacy and development, underscored his awareness that interagency partnership can tend towards lopsidedness, with the Defense Department’s massive top-line budget and resources sometimes dwarfing those of other government agencies.

“As a career CIA officer who watched the military's role in intelligence grow ever larger, I am keenly aware that the defense department -- by its sheer size -- is not only the 800-pound gorilla of our government,” he said, “but one with a sometimes very active pituitary gland.”

In a gesture of interagency equity, the secretary last year sent a policy proposal to the State Department that would pool a portion of the two departments’ funding and require both Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to authorize projects for foreign capacity building, stabilization and conflict prevention. Unlike Cold War-era structures and processes, Gates said, his proposal would “incentivize collaboration” between agencies.

While Gates seemed to have no particular fealty to the specific capacity-building policy he sent to Clinton in 2009, he highlighted a series of principles that he said should guide a reshaping of the interagency approach. Funding to grow indigenous security forces overseas and other similar projects aimed at global hotspots should be outside of conventional budgetary channels, he said.

“For predictable, ongoing requirements this is appropriate and manageable,” he said. “But as recent history suggests, it is not well suited to the emerging and unforeseen threats -- or opportunities -- coming most often from failed and fragile states.”

Charting American capacity building projects since before the outbreak of WWII, Gates cited the milestone U.S. lend-lease policy that shipped some $31 billion worth of U.S. supplies -- in 1940s dollars -- to Great Britain over the course of the war, and pointed to Cold War assistance sent to Western Europe and elsewhere.

The U.S. military now recognizes the value of building local security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, which represents a significant transformation since the U.S.-led wars began there.

“Efforts to train the Afghan and later the Iraqi security forces were not an institutional priority within the military services -- where such assignments were not considered career enhancing for ambitious young officers -- and relied heavily on contractors and reservists,” he said “More recently, the advisory missions in both the Afghan and Iraq campaigns have received the attention they deserve in leadership, resources and personnel.”

The secretary said the U.S. would be unlikely in the near-term to carry out missions on the scope of the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but he said the department concluded recently that it would probably face similar but smaller threat scenarios.

“We are unlikely to repeat a mission on the scale of Iraq or Afghanistan anytime soon -- that is, forced regime change followed by nation-building under fire…but we are still likely to face scenarios calling on a similar tool-kit of capabilities, albeit on a smaller scale,” he said.

Gates referred to threats emanating from fractured or failing states, which he called “the ideological and security challenge of our time.” He added: “It is the primary institutional challenge as well.”

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Robert M. Gates addresses the audience at the Nixon Center Distinguished Service Award dinner in Washington, D.C., Feb. 24, 2010. He said the United States should devote more energy and overseas aid dollars towards developing the local security forces of other countries. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageFormer Defense Secretary and Chairman of the Advisory Council James Schlesinger introduces Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, recipient of the the Nixon Center Distinguished Service Award, during the think tank's award dinner in Gate's honor in Washington, D.C., Feb. 24, 2010. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageFormer Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, left, shares a laugh with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates before the start of the Nixon Center Distinguished Service Award dinner honoring Gates in Washington, D.C., Feb. 24, 2010. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRetired Air Force Gen. Charles Boyd addresses the audience before presenting Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates the Nixon Center Distinguished Service Award along with Julie Nixon Eisenhower, daughter of President Richard Nixon, during a dinner in Washington, D.C., Feb. 24, 2010. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen   
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