Terrorism, Weapons Top Threat List, Gates Says

ST. PETERSBURG, Rus­sia, March 21, 2011 — In a nation he spent much of his career study­ing and a city he last vis­it­ed at the end of the Cold War, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates answered ques­tions here today from Russ­ian naval offi­cers about the U.S. Defense Depart­ment, its prob­lems and its future.
After deliv­er­ing a speech at the new State Russ­ian Naval Muse­um, Gates invit­ed ques­tions from his audi­ence of mid-lev­el offi­cers from the Kuznetsov Naval Acad­e­my.

“The biggest threats we face are actu­al­ly those where inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion is sig­nif­i­cant­ly required,” Gates said. “The first is ter­ror­ism, … and the oth­er is the pro­lif­er­a­tion of weapons of mass destruc­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly pro­lif­er­a­tion in states that have threat­ened to destroy oth­er states.”

Ter­ror­ism sent the Unit­ed States into Afghanistan and into a dif­fi­cult fight with al-Qai­da, he added.

Nuclear pro­lif­er­a­tion in Iran brought “all the per­ma­nent mem­bers of the U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil — the Unit­ed States, Rus­sia, Chi­na, Great Britain, France — togeth­er to try and bring pres­sure to bear” on that nation, he said.

“It is cer­tain­ly my hope,” the sec­re­tary added, “that none of us ever have to use mil­i­tary force to deal with these pro­lif­er­a­tion prob­lems, but rather that we can per­suade these coun­tries … to give up these weapons or weapons pro­grams vol­un­tar­i­ly.”

One of the biggest U.S. defense prob­lems, Gates said, involves very expen­sive weapons sys­tems ordered many years ago. Some have end­ed up cost­ing much more than antic­i­pat­ed, and oth­ers “have proven not to be use­ful in the 21st cen­tu­ry,” he told the Russ­ian offi­cers.

The sec­re­tary said he’s made progress on the prob­lem, sav­ing Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers $300 bil­lion or more as a result.

“But being able to be more selec­tive about the weapons pro­grams that we have,” he said, “mak­ing them rel­e­vant to [tomorrow’s] chal­lenges and get­ting them deliv­ered on time and as bud­get­ed is a chal­lenge that every mil­i­tary in the world faces in the 21st cen­tu­ry.”

The world is not going to face the kinds of threats it expe­ri­enced in the 20th cen­tu­ry, the sec­re­tary said.

“We will face a range of poten­tial con­flicts that slides along a spec­trum of lethal­i­ty,” he explained. “We will con­front non­state actors that poten­tial­ly have the capa­bil­i­ties of states, whether it’s in the cyber area or in the case of Hezbol­lah, which has tens of thou­sands of rock­ets and mis­siles — more than most gov­ern­ments in the world.”

Per­haps the biggest nation­al secu­ri­ty and strate­gic chal­lenge, Gates told the group, is prepar­ing mil­i­taries for diverse threats and secu­ri­ty chal­lenges under lim­it­ed bud­gets and get­ting the max­i­mum pos­si­ble flex­i­bil­i­ty for using those capa­bil­i­ties tech­no­log­i­cal­ly and in terms of train­ing.

Gates said the way weapons are pro­cured is a major struc­tur­al change need­ed in the U.S. mil­i­tary. Most ser­vices still buy their own weapons, he added, “but in fact a num­ber of those capa­bil­i­ties can be shared among all of the ser­vices.”

“As we have learned to fight joint­ly and are struc­tured joint­ly,” he added, “we need to learn how to buy weapons joint­ly.”

The sec­re­tary cit­ed remote­ly pilot­ed vehi­cles as an exam­ple, not­ing that each ser­vice has its own pro­gram for buy­ing them. “And we think we could save a lot of mon­ey if they went togeth­er in these pro­grams,” he said.

In a dis­cus­sion of train­ing and edu­ca­tion for U.S. ser­vice mem­bers, Gates acknowl­edged repeat­ed rota­tions for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cut into full-spec­trum train­ing for the whole range of mis­sions that each ser­vice is sup­posed to per­form.

Turn­ing to U.S.-Russian coop­er­a­tion, Gates said he would like to see more effort put into an exchange pro­gram for Russ­ian and U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cers and non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers.

“We would more than wel­come exchang­ing stu­dents between our pro­fes­sion­al mil­i­tary train­ing and edu­ca­tion orga­ni­za­tions and Russia’s,” Gates said. The effort would ben­e­fit both coun­tries, he said, and he promised to raise the issue with Russ­ian Defense Min­is­ter Ana­toliy Serdyukov dur­ing a meet­ing tomor­row.

“It would do both of our mil­i­taries good to learn from one anoth­er and have the expe­ri­ence of spend­ing time togeth­er,” he added, not­ing that the U.S. mil­i­tary ser­vices “would be very inter­est­ed in this at every lev­el, not just the most-senior offi­cers but mid-grade offi­cers and even non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers.”

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

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