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Remarks at the 50th Anniversary of the Mutual Defense Treaty with the U.K. (Washington, D.C.)
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Washington, D.C., Wednesday, July 09, 2008

     Good evening. On behalf of Secretary Bodman and Secretary Rice, I want to welcome Secretary Browne, and our other distinguished guests this evening, for this commemoration of a treaty and an alliance that have stood the test of time.
     It is a friendship that has had its share of awkward moments. Two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill moved into the White House to plot strategy with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The sleeping, eating, and drinking habits of the British houseguest held the White House staff in awe. For his part, the Prime Minister griped that “The problem in this country is the drinks are too hard and the toilet paper is too soft.”
     During the war-planning, it occurred to President Roosevelt that the Allies ought to call themselves the “United Nations.” Legend has it that FDR, eager to try this idea out on his guest, wheeled into Churchill’s room as Churchill emerged from the bathtub. FDR blurted out an apology and tried to wheel out. Churchill calmly responded: “Please stay – the Prime Minister of Great Britain has nothing to hide from the President of the United States.”
     We Britons and Americans like to point to all that we have in common: in law, custom, and (allegedly) language. For decades, we have also shared the most sensitive of secrets: the technology and know-how that power the world’s deadliest weapons. For 50 years, the Mutual Defense Agreement between our countries has been a bulwark of peace – deterring those who would commit aggression against free societies.
     The struggle between the superpowers that began at the dawn of the atomic age was the greatest armed contest the world had ever seen; the destructive power assembled by each side dwarfed that of any previous arms race or war. It was a destructive power that the West wanted to harness but never unleash. That was, and remains, the paradox of nuclear military strategy.
     In hindsight it may seem as if the Cold War’s peaceful end was inevitable. Yet those of us of a certain age we remember the dangerous confrontations in a divided Berlin, the Cuban missile crisis, and other times when we and our allies stood at the brink with the Soviet Union. We who were there recall that maintaining our nuclear deterrent was our ultimate counter to Soviet expansionism and aggressiveness. Western strategists had to thread the needle – to proceed in a way that diminished the danger of an apocalypse without weakening our deterrent and forcing us to capitulate.
     Physicist Herman Kahn wrote at the time: “The best of policies must involve judicious guesses, informed acts of faith, and careful steps in the dark.” The Mutual Defense Agreement – in setting the U.K. and U.S. on a course of joint testing and deployment of the Polaris missile and the Trident missile that succeeded it – was such a policy. It was judicious. It was based on the faith we had in one another.
     In that same spirit, we carry on today. As the nuclear submarines of the Royal Navy and U.S. Navy patrol the oceans, we persist with our shared efforts under the Mutual Defense Agreement so that we:
     • Continue to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of our nuclear stockpiles;
     • Combat the proliferation of nuclear weapons to rogue states and non-state actors; and
     • We deter those who would attack our peoples and our way of life.
     Sadly, following the end of the Cold War, the world has not gotten less dangerous. Indeed, the threats have grown more diffuse and complex, posing new challenges for our national security institutions. As Russia and China continue to modernize their strategic nuclear capabilities, as Iran drives relentlessly toward a nuclear weapons capability, as proliferation of weapons of mass destruction continues to be a challenge, a smaller yet still powerful nuclear deterrent remains an essential component of our national defense. Meanwhile, the American and British militaries and intelligence services are working together more closely than ever to thwart violent extremists before they strike again. As we speak, British troops and U.S. Marines are fighting side by side in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. Secretary Browne, Des, the Anglo-American partnership remains steady and strong. For this, the U.S. government and the American people are deeply grateful.
     Thank you.