Strong Military is Key to Long-term U.S. Success, Gates Says

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2011 — The ulti­mate guar­an­tee against suc­cess of aggres­sors, dic­ta­tors and ter­ror­ists in the 21st cen­tu­ry is the size, strength and glob­al reach of the Unit­ed States mil­i­tary, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said today.

“Beyond the cur­rent wars, our mil­i­tary cred­i­bil­i­ty, com­mit­ment and pres­ence are required to sus­tain alliances, to pro­tect trade routes and ener­gy sup­plies, and to deter would-be adver­saries from mak­ing the kind of mis­cal­cu­la­tions that so often lead to war,” Gates said, speak­ing at a grad­u­a­tion com­mence­ment cer­e­mo­ny at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Notre Dame in Indiana. 

Gates acknowl­edged that defense cuts will have to be made in light of the nation’s steep fis­cal imbal­ances and mount­ing debt, and that Wash­ing­ton can­not put off deal­ing with the crisis. 

“But going for­ward, we must be clear-eyed about the fact that there are no pain­less answers,” Gates said. 

At the same time, Gates said, the Unit­ed States faces a com­plex and unpre­dictable inter­na­tion­al secu­ri­ty envi­ron­ment that includes a major war in Afghanistan, wind­ing up the war in Iraq, rev­o­lu­tion through­out the Mid­dle East, new ris­ing pow­ers, nuclear pro­lif­er­a­tion in Iran and Korea, the con­tin­ued threat of terrorism. 

But, Gates added, Amer­i­ca has faced equal­ly tough times in the past and emerged successfully. 

“We have bat­tled slav­ery and intol­er­ance in our own soci­ety, and on the glob­al stage pre­vailed against Nazi Ger­many and Sovi­et com­mu­nism. We have seen peri­ods of painful eco­nom­ic col­lapse give way to renewed and unprece­dent­ed pros­per­i­ty,” Gates said. “Our progress has been some­times unsteady, and some­times too slow. Win­ston Churchill pur­port­ed­ly said dur­ing World War II, ‘You can always count on Amer­i­cans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried every­thing else.’ ” 

But the U.S. sto­ry has been, and still is, the envy of the world, Gates said. 

“Indeed, the death of Osama bin Laden after a decade-long man­hunt by the Unit­ed States remind­ed us ear­li­er this month that, as Pres­i­dent [Barack] Oba­ma said, when faced with tough times, ‘We do not fal­ter. We don’t turn back. We pick our­selves up and we get on with the hard task of keep­ing our coun­try strong and safe,” the sec­re­tary said. 

Amer­i­cans live now in a time of “great neces­si­ties,” Gates said. 

“For my entire life, the Unit­ed States has been the most eco­nom­i­cal­ly dynam­ic, pow­er­ful coun­try and gov­ern­ment in the world — the indis­pen­si­ble nation,” he said. “It still is all those things, and indeed, as I’ve trav­eled the world over the last four and a half years, I have been struck by the num­ber of coun­tries – from Europe to South­east Asia – who want to forge clos­er ties with us and our mil­i­tary, and want the Unit­ed States to play a big­ger, not small­er, role as part­ners pro­vid­ing sta­bil­i­ty, secu­ri­ty and pros­per­i­ty across the globe. 

“But there is no ques­tion that our abil­i­ty to lead, and our eco­nom­ic strength – a giv­en for near­ly three quar­ters of a cen­tu­ry – are being test­ed by fis­cal prob­lems at home and ris­ing pow­ers and emer­gent threats abroad. Your lives will be defined by how we respond to these chal­lenges,” he added. 

Amer­i­ca can­not assume, because things have worked out in the past, that the prob­lems fac­ing the coun­try even­tu­al­ly will resolve them­selves, Gates said. And, he added, the Unit­ed States needs lead­ers able to make tough choic­es and work together. 

As lead­ers debate those choic­es, the sec­re­tary said, some will call to shrink America’s inter­na­tion­al com­mit­ments and the military’s size and capabilities. 

“As part of Amer­i­ca get­ting its finan­cial house in order, the size of our defense bud­get must be addressed,” Gates said. “That means culling more bureau­crat­ic excess and over­head, tak­ing a hard look at per­son­nel lev­els and costs, and re-exam­in­ing mis­sions and capa­bil­i­ties to sep­a­rate the desir­able or option­al from the essential.” 

In con­sid­er­ing those cuts, though, Gates urged caution. 

“A recur­ring theme in Amer­i­ca for near­ly a cen­tu­ry has been a ten­den­cy to con­clude after each war that the fun­da­men­tal nature of man and the iron real­i­ties of nations have changed — that his­to­ry, in all of its unpre­dictable and trag­ic dimen­sions, has come to a civ­i­lized end [and] that we will no longer have to con­front for­eign ene­mies with size, steel and strength,” Gates said. 

Anoth­er ten­den­cy, he added, has been for Amer­i­cans repeat­ed­ly to avert their eyes in the belief that remote events else­where in the world need not engage this country. 

“The lessons of his­to­ry tell us we must not dimin­ish our abil­i­ty or our deter­mi­na­tion to deal with the threats and chal­lenges on the hori­zon, because ulti­mate­ly they will need to be con­front­ed,” Gates said. “If his­to­ry – and reli­gion – teach us any­thing, it is that there will always be evil in the world — peo­ple bent on aggres­sion, oppres­sion, sat­is­fy­ing their greed for wealth and pow­er and ter­ri­to­ry, or deter­mined to impose an ide­ol­o­gy based on the sub­ju­ga­tion of oth­ers and the denial of lib­er­ty to men and women.” 

In keep­ing with his most recent com­mence­ment speech­es at Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­si­ty, North Dako­ta State Uni­ver­si­ty and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Okla­homa, Gates used the oppor­tu­ni­ty to issue a call to pub­lic service. 

“We need the active involve­ment of our best, most hon­est, cit­i­zens to make our democ­ra­cy work — whether as can­di­dates for pub­lic office, as civ­il ser­vants, mem­bers of our armed forces or in oth­er roles,” he said. 

Gates, who entered gov­ern­ment ser­vice 45 years ago this sum­mer, will retire as sec­re­tary of defense next month. He chal­lenged the grad­u­ates to con­sid­er tak­ing an active role in their nation’s life by com­mit­ting to spend­ing at least part of their careers in pub­lic service. 

Gates closed with a quote by the elder Pres­i­dent John Adams in a let­ter to his son, Thomas Boyl­ston Adams, in which he wrote: “Pub­lic busi­ness, my son, must always be done by some­body. It will be done by some­body or anoth­er. If wise men decline it, oth­ers will not; if hon­est men refuse it, oth­ers will not.” 

“To this I would add,” Gates said, “if Amer­i­ca declines to lead in the world, oth­ers will not. So to the Notre Dame class of 2011, I would ask the wis­est and most hon­est of you to find a way to serve and to lead our coun­try to new great­ness at home and around the globe.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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