December 12th, 2006 11:02 EST
Gates Outlines U.S. Strategic Defense Priorities
Washington -- Questions about Iraq dominated Defense Secretary-designate Robert Gates' recent Senate confirmation hearing, but he also offered insight into his perspective on security issues related to Afghanistan, Iraq and North Korea.
The U.S. Senate on December 6 approved Gates to become the next secretary of defense. He will succeed Donald Rumsfeld, who has held the post since the beginning of the Bush administration in 2001. Gates will be sworn in at a Pentagon ceremony December 18.
“Transforming the department to better deal with 21st-century challenges, a major charge from the president, must continue,” Gates said in recent testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. “These challenges range from the threat posed by terrorist networks, to weapons of mass destruction in the hands of hostile regimes and terrorist networks, to states armed with advanced weaponry.”
AFGHANISTAN: SECURITY AND DEVELOPMENT AID NEEDED
In response to the committee's questions, Gates said that Afghanistan, a country that figured prominently in his years as a senior official at the CIA in the 1980s, would join Iraq as one of the Pentagon’s top priorities.
“The fight in Afghanistan requires defeating the Taliban resurgence, but also requires assisting the country in developing into a moderate, stable, representative democracy and a partner in the global war on terror,” he said. (See Rebuilding Afghanistan.)
Although Gates sees the growing role of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan as a positive development, the resurgence of Taliban forces in southern areas illustrates Kabul’s continued need for help in building an army and a national police force. (See related article.)
Gates also agreed with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and top alliance military commander Marine General James Jones, who maintains that Afghanistan cannot be saved by military force alone.
Gates said that the United States and its allies must help the Afghan government “extend the rule of law to remote areas; provide economic development that will provide people alternatives to opium production and the Taliban; and address corruption to ensure a stable state that enjoys popular support.”
IRAN: DIPLOMACY PREFERABLE TO MILITARY FORCE
Diplomacy is preferable to potential military action against Iran, which should only be considered as “an absolute last resort” to halt Tehran’s covert nuclear weapons program, Gates testified. (See Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.)
Although diplomacy remains outside the new defense secretary’s portfolio, he supports the State Department-led effort to engage with Iran in exchange for its abandonment of nuclear enrichment activities.
“Even in the worst days of the Cold War the U.S. maintained a dialogue with the Soviet Union and China, and I believe those channels of communication helped us manage many potentially difficult situations,” Gates said.
He also said that while he serves as an adviser, it is the president who will ultimately determine any future changes to U.S. policy, which remains complicated by Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons as well as its support of terrorism in Lebanon, Iraq and beyond. (See related article.)
NORTH KOREA: ALLIANCES KEY TO REGIONAL STABILITY
Regarding North Korea, Gates expressed support for the ongoing Six-Party Talks process and pledged that he would continue working closely with allies to help maintain peace and stability in the region. The White House announced December 11 that talks between North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States will resume December 18 in Beijing. (See related article.)
“The true linchpin to our deterrence is the strength and viability of our alliances,” Gates said. These military partnerships are the foundation for continued transformation of the U.S. military presence in Asia, which is shifting and consolidating military bases to take advantage of new technologies to cut costs and improve commanders’ strategic flexibility.
Strong military-to-military relations in Asia, particularly with Japan and South Korea, Gates said, complement regional diplomacy with deterrence, sending a clear message to Pyongyang that the United States will stand with its regional allies against aggression or efforts to traffic in weapons of mass destruction. (See The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.)
These alliances, Gates said, also are important to ongoing efforts to work with China to strengthen regional security. Although Gates expressed concern about Beijing's rapid military modernization, he also saw its recent improvements in discouraging proliferation, increasing transparency and facilitating a diplomatic resolution on the North Korean nuclear standoff as positive indications that China shares its neighbors’ hope for regional stability. (See The United States and China.)
The text of the Gates questionnaire is available from the Senate Armed Services Committee Web site.
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By David McKeeby
USINFO Staff Writer