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Munich Conference on Security Policy
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Munich, Germany, Sunday, February 11, 2007

Thank you, Horst.
Distinguished ministers, parliamentarians, representatives of the United States Congress – ladies and gentlemen.
I would like to thank Horst for inviting me to speak at this venerable forum to offer some thoughts on our transatlantic partnership. It’s gratifying to see so many people who I’ve worked with on these security issues going back many years. Speaking of issues going back many years, as an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.
Many of you have backgrounds in diplomacy or politics. I have, like your second speaker yesterday, a starkly different background – a career in the spy business. And, I guess, old spies have a habit of blunt speaking.
However, I have been to re-education camp, spending four and half years as a university president and dealing with faculty. And, as more than a few university presidents have learned in recent years, when it comes to faculty it is either “be nice” or “be gone.”
The real world we inhabit is a different and a much more complex world than that of 20 or 30 years ago. We all face many common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia.
For this reason, I have this week accepted the invitation of both President Putin and Minister of Defense Ivanov to visit Russia. One Cold War was quite enough.
The world has dramatically changed since May 1989, when Horst Teltschik and I sat out on the patio of the “Chancellor’s Bungalow” in Bonn with Chancellor Kohl and my colleague Larry Eagleburger. At that time, the allies were trying to come together on the issue of reducing conventional forces in Europe. The way I remember that particular meeting, however, was that the tough part wasn’t addressing the military balance of power in Europe, it was seeing to it that there were enough cakes and pastries on hand for both the Chancellor and the Deputy Secretary of State.
It is certainly good to be in Munich following the NATO ministerial in Seville. I should say that this trip has been quite a different experience from my so-called fact-finding excursion last month to Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia. The one fact, above all, that became clear from that venture is that I am too old to visit seven countries in five days. However, I have now learned here in Munich that I am still too young to sit still for seven hours.
As many of you know, the security of this continent has been of interest to me for much of my academic and professional life – for more than 40 years in fact. This was true when I was a Ph.D. candidate in Russian and Soviet history, through my career at CIA, as well as during service on the National Security Council under four presidents.
For many of those years, I worked hand in hand with colleagues from Western European governments to help coordinate our actions and responses in the latter half of the Cold War. Many of those colleagues are here this morning.
I had a ringside seat for an extraordinary run of events from the 1975 Helsinki conference to the liberation of Central and Eastern Europe a decade and a half later.
During that struggle, there were times of confrontation between the superpowers. Relations among the allies were not without their stresses and strains, either. But our Atlantic partnership was strong enough to allow us to surmount the difficulties and make the right choices at the right times. For example, the decision to deploy cruise and Pershing missiles to counter the Soviet Union’s new weapons in the late 1970s, was politically difficult for many allies. But ultimately, the courage and leadership of statesmen and stateswomen on both sides of the Atlantic, and the actual deployment of the missiles early in the 1980s, helped set the stage for deep reductions in nuclear arms and the end of the Cold War.
Looking back, it seems clear that totalitarianism was defeated as much by ideas the West championed – then as now – as by ICBMs, tanks, and warships that the West deployed. Our most effective weapon, then and now, has been Europe’s and North America’s shared belief in political and economic freedom, religious toleration, human rights, representative government, and the rule of law. These values kept our side united, and inspired those on the other side – in Wenceslas Square, in Gdansk, behind the wall in Berlin, and in so many other places around the world – to defeat communism from within.
At the end, the peoples of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union simply stood up, shrugged off their chains, and reclaimed a future based on these same ideas.
I believe these shared values and shared interests endure, as do our shared responsibilities to come to their defense. Today, they are under threat by another virulent ideological adversary and are confronted by a range of other looming geopolitical challenges.
This strategic environment has challenged the mission and identity of the Atlantic Alliance – an institution and an arrangement that, in my view, is the political and military expression of a deeper bond between Europe and North America.
Many of these questions are not new. I recall spending countless hours beginning in 1989 on the future of the Alliance and how it would need to change in order to remain vital and relevant after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.
The question that still confronts us today is how a partnership originally formed to defend fixed borders should adapt to an era of unconventional and global threats. The European continent, of course, has been confronting the threat of terrorism for decades. I don’t have to remind the citizens of Munich of this – the very city where, in 1972, the world witnessed the kidnapping and massacre of Olympic athletes not too far from where we sit today.
But the challenge posed by violent extremism today is unlike anything the West has faced in many generations. In many ways it is grounded in a profound alienation from the foundations of the modern world – religious toleration, freedom of expression and equality for women. As we have seen, many of these extremist networks are homegrown, and can take root in the restless and alienated immigrant populations of Europe.
The dark talent of the extremists today is, as President Bush said, to combine “new technologies and old hatreds.” Their ability to tap into global communications systems turns modern advances against us and turns local conflicts into problems potentially of much wider concern. The interest they have shown in weapons of mass destruction is real and needs to be taken seriously.
We have learned that from a distant and isolated place, from any failed or extremist state – such as Afghanistan during the 1990s – these networks can plan and launch far-reaching and devastating attacks on free and civilized nations.
No fewer than 18 terrorist organizations, many linked with al Qaeda, have pulled off bloody attacks throughout the world – in the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom, India, Algeria, Somalia, Russia, Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt, Indonesia, Tunisia, Morocco and in others as well.
Those attacks – and other threats that have since emerged – revealed even more starkly the need to reorient the Atlantic Alliance to be able to export security beyond the borders of NATO.
Although NATO was created to oppose Soviet communism, its guiding principle was a broad and deep one from the very start: to build a defensive alliance against any threat to the security and interests of the transatlantic community for generations to come.
And today we see that an Alliance that never fired a shot in the Cold War now conducts six missions on three continents. It has created new mechanisms for action on the international stage. It has been through profound changes and will undergo more in the future.
We see this in NATO’s truly historic mission in Afghanistan, where Alliance forces have engaged in significant ground combat for the first time, in complex operations across difficult terrain, in a theater many long miles from Western Europe.
Last year in Afghanistan, the Taliban paid the price for testing the fighting mettle of NATO forces, as troops from the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Romania, Estonia and Denmark – along with our Afghan allies – prevailed in often fierce combat in Kandahar province.
In fact, as the NATO allies just discussed in Seville, if we take the necessary steps now, the offensive in Afghanistan this spring will be our offensive – one that will inflict a powerful setback on the enemy of an elected government supported by the overwhelming majority of the Afghan people.
Going forward, it is vitally important that the success Afghanistan has achieved not be allowed to slip away through neglect or lack of political will or resolve.
All allies agree we need a comprehensive strategy – combining a muscular military effort with effective support for governance, economic development, and counternarcotics.
But now we have to back up those promises with money and with forces. An Alliance consisting of the world’s most prosperous industrialized nations, with over two million people in uniform – not even counting the American military – should be able to generate the manpower and materiel needed to get the job done in Afghanistan – a mission in which there is virtually no dispute over its justness, necessity, or international legitimacy. Our failure to do so would be a mark of shame.
What has emerged in Afghanistan is a test of our ability to overcome a challenge of enormous consequence to our shared values and interests. In today’s strategic environment, there are potentially others:
The fault lines of sectarian conflict and jihadist movements radiating outward from the Middle East and Central Asia; an Iran with hegemonic ambitions seeking nuclear weapons; and the struggle over the future of Iraq, with enormous implications for our common interests in the Middle East – and beyond.
Looking eastward, China is a country at a strategic crossroads. All of us seek a constructive relationship with China, but we also wonder about the strategic choices China may make. We note with concern its recent test of an anti-satellite weapon.
Russia is a partner in endeavors. But we wonder, too, about some Russian policies that seem to work against international stability, such as its arms transfers and its temptation to use energy resources for political coercion. And as the NATO Secretary General said yesterday, Russia need not fear law-based democracies on its borders.
In this strategic environment, the Alliance must be willing to alter long-standing habits, assumptions and arrangements. Much progress has been made, to be sure. After almost 15 years away from government, I have been deeply impressed by the new expeditionary capabilities and institutional reforms NATO has undertaken. The missile defense discussion the United States is having with Poland, the Czech Republic, the U.K, and Denmark to protect our homelands is another promising development. And, at the Riga Summit, our allied leaders agreed to strengthen our security relationships with like-minded nations in other parts of the globe – such as Australia, Japan, and South Korea.
But in addition to pursuing new missions, capabilities and partnerships, the members of this Alliance must, individually and collectively, be willing to commit the necessary resources as well – not just in Afghanistan, but across the board.
The benchmark of spending 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product on defense, for example, is a commitment agreed to by each member. Such an investment is necessary to meet our collective obligations to ensure that when we stand together in battle – whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere – the quality, quantity and sophistication of our equipment and our capabilities are at an appropriate level. And yet, at this time, only six of NATO’s 26 members have met the GDP standard.
Over the years, people have tried to put the nations of Europe and the Alliance into different categories:
The “free world” versus “those behind the Iron Curtain”;
“North” versus “South”;
“East” versus “West”;
I am told that some have even spoken in terms of “old” Europe versus “new.”
All of these characterizations belong to the past. The distinction I would draw is a very practical one – a “realist’s” view: It is between Alliance members who do all they can to fulfill collective commitments, and those who do not. NATO is not a “paper membership,” or a “social club,” or a “talk shop.” It is a military alliance – one with very serious real-world obligations.
It is a sad reality today, as through all human history, that some seek through violence and crimes against the innocent to dominate others. Another sad reality is that, when all is said and done, they understand and bow not to reason nor to negotiation, but only to superior force. This is perhaps politically incorrect, and perhaps an old intelligence officer being too blunt. But it is reality.
And it is the power, the political and military power of 26 democracies of NATO – the most potent Alliance in the history of the world – that is the shield behind which the ideas and values we share are spreading around the globe.
In short, meeting our commitment to one another and to those we strive to help – from the Balkans to Afghanistan and beyond – is critical to our success and theirs.
Looking back, the Cold War was an epic struggle that incurred epic costs. I believe we all agree that incurring those costs was preferable to the alternatives: catastrophic conflict or totalitarian domination.
The range of challenges and threats we face today will also test our willingness to meet our commitments to spend the money and take the risks – indeed, to fully embrace our shared responsibility to protect our shared interests and values.
There cannot be any doubt: The world needs a vibrant and muscular transatlantic alliance. The cooperation between our countries must continue and it must deepen. We will need to work hard at it. And we are working hard together in the Balkans, in Afghanistan, and, many of us, in Iraq.
As we face these challenges as rich and powerful democracies, it is worth recalling the words of a leader of a fledgling and weak alliance of disparate provinces with:
Disrupted economies; differing issues and goals; diverse allegiances; mutual suspicion; an army comprised of soldiers often with parochial loyalties, and lacking in equipment and training; and with but one strong ally.
George Washington reminded his countrymen – and us – that “Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.” These should be our watchwords going forward: “Perseverance” and “spirit.” And, I should add – “unity.”
Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.