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Gates: U.S. Must Maintain Conventional Dominance

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2008 – As the military institutionalizes new and unconventional warfighting skills, it also must work to maintain its conventional dominance, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates wrote in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.

Gates’ article, titled “A Balanced Strategy: Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age,” cited the need to ensure the United States is prepared to confront both conventional and unconventional threats as well as warfare that blends the two.

“The categories of warfare are blurring and no longer fit into neat, tidy boxes,” Gates wrote. “One can expect to see more tools and tactics of destruction -- from the sophisticated to the simple -- being employed simultaneously in hybrid and more complex forms of warfare.”

The secretary pointed to examples of this phenomenon: Russia’s conventional offensive in Georgia that also included a sophisticated cyber attack and propaganda campaign, and Saddam Hussein’s use of paramilitary fighters as well as the Republican Guard’s T-72 tanks.

“Conversely, militias, insurgent groups, other nonstate actors and developing-world militaries are increasingly acquiring more technology, lethality and sophistication,” Gates said. The rocket and missile arsenal of Hezbollah – a Lebanon-based terrorist organization -- dwarfs those of many nation-states, he noted, and Chinese and Russian arms sales are putting advanced offensive and defensive capabilities into the hands of more countries and groups.

This sends a signal to the United States about the types of units it fields, the weapons it buys and the training it conducts, Gates said.

“Just as one can expect a blended high-low mix of adversaries and types of conflict, so, too, should the United States seek a better balance in the portfolio of capabilities it has,” he wrote.

As the United States advances its unconventional capabilities, he said, it can’t let its conventional capabilities slip. “The United States cannot take its current dominance for granted and needs to invest in the programs, platforms and personnel that will ensure that dominance's persistence,” he said.

Gates pointed to images of Russian tanks rolling into the former Soviet republic of Georgia in August as “a reminder that nation-states and their militaries do still matter.” He noted that both Russia and China have increased their defense spending and modernization programs, North Korea has built several bombs, and Iran seeks to join the nuclear club.

“What all these potential adversaries -- from terrorist cells to rogue nations to rising powers -- have in common is that they have learned that it is unwise to confront the United States directly on conventional military terms,” he wrote.

While other nations might not want to challenge the United States “fighter to fighter, ship to ship, tank to tank,” Gates said, they are seeking other ways to undermine U.S. capabilities.

“They are developing the disruptive means to blunt the impact of U.S. power, narrow the United States’ military operations and deny the U.S. military freedom of movement and action,” he said.

Gates cited China’s investments in cyber and anti-satellite warfare, anti-aircraft and anti-ship weaponry, submarines and ballistic missiles.

These efforts could threaten the United States’ primary means to project power and help allies in the Pacific, and put a premium on its ability to strike from over the horizon and employ missile defenses, he said. They also underscore the need for longer-range systems such as the next-generation bomber.

“Even though the days of hair-trigger superpower confrontation are over, as long as other nations possess the bomb and the means to deliver it, the United States must maintain a credible strategic deterrent,” he said.

(This is the third article in a series based on Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ article, “A Balanced Strategy: Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age,” published in the January/February 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine.)

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Biographies:
Robert M. Gates

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