Gates Fields Broad-Ranging Questions From International Security Experts
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
MUNICH, Germany, Feb. 11, 2007 Consequences for failure in Iraq, European missile defenses and the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are all topics Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates touched on in a broad-ranging question-and-answer session following a speech here today.
Following his address to the more than 300 participants at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, Gates talked about his philosophy on NATO, the alliance’s role in Iraq, and anti-Americanism.
When asked to discuss his philosophy for NATO, Gates stressed that NATO is principally a military alliance and expressed confidence in NATO’s comprehensive approach to operations in Afghanistan. He said military action must be conducted in conjunction with economic development, construction and the development of civil society.
“We are showing in Afghanistan that we can do both,” he said. “We can run effective military operations and also rebuild a society.”
Responding to a question about NATO’s role in Iraq, Gates noted that some members of the alliance are helping the United States in Iraq. He pointed out that, in his view, membership in the alliance should not preclude nations becoming involved in non-NATO military actions
“I don’t think that every action that takes place around the world that involves NATO nations necessarily has to be a NATO-approved operation, Gates said. “But obviously when other members of the alliance are willing to join us as individual nations their participation is welcome.”
The secretary went on to point out that that failure in Iraq would affect more than just the United States and its coalition partners. “There may be great disagreement within this room on how we got to where we are,” he said. “But the reality is, as of today, failure in Iraq will impact every country represent in this room.
“Failure to foster the emergence of a stable state that can defend itself and govern itself will result in further conflict in the Middle East,” he said. “It will result in more terrorism reaching out to touch all of us.”
Gates then explained why the United States and NATO are planning ballistic missile defenses in Europe. “We are doing this, frankly, in support of our friends in Europe as we look at the potential for the development of longer-range missiles not only in Iran, but perhaps elsewhere,” he said.
Acknowledging Russia’s objections to the missile defenses, Gates said the capabilities of the systems being installed “provide essentially no protection against Russian missiles.”
“It’s not directed against Russia. It’s not directed at undermining their deterrent whatsoever,” he said. “We are being transparent as possible within the alliance and reporting on developments and on the emerging negotiations with our partners within NATO who are participating in this. We believe this umbrella of protections unifies the alliance rather than divides it.
In answer to a question on detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Gates said some activities there, as well as abuses that have taken place in Iraq, have negatively impacted the reputation of the United States. “There’s no question that most of us would like to close the detainee facility at Guantanamo,” he said.
The secretary admitted he doesn’t know if there are more people there who should be released, but U.S. officials are going through the process of trying to find out.“If we can get people to take those who can and should be released, that would be a good thing,” he said. “(But) we have had some difficulty in that respect.”
“It is also true, though, that there are real terrorists at Guantanamo,” Gates stressed.
Some people there should never be released. By their own admission in many cases, they are serious, committed terrorists, he said. “So this is a difficult problem for us,” Gates said. “We will continue to try to work through it, but to do so with transparency and in ways that are consistent with law and openness.”
He said tribunals are being conducted under the auspices of legislation voted on by Congress. Trials will be transparent; defendants will have adequate legal representation; and the press will be admitted.
Gates agreed with one participant that anti-Americanism is evident in certain quarters. The United States has made some mistakes, he said, “and not presented our case as well as we might in many instances. I think we have to work on that.”
Although the United States’ reputation as a force for law and order, human rights and human advancement has been sullied, it can be restored, he said. “For the last century, one of the great assets the United States has had is that most people around the world felt that (even though) from time to time we might do something stupid, we were a force for good in the world,” Gates said. “I believe a lot of people still believe that.
“What we have to focus on as we look to the future,” he concluded, “is strengthening that reputation we have had for a century, and perhaps doing a better job of explaining what we’re trying to do in the world.”