U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates cautioned against pulling away from the world and slashing defense spending now that Osama bin Laden is dead and the war in Iraq is winding down.
“Make no mistake, the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power -- the size, strength, and global reach of the United States military,” Gates said. “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.”
Gates made the remarks in a commencement address prepared for delivery today at the University of Notre Dame near South Bend, Indiana, where he received an honorary degree. Gates will retire from his Pentagon post after the Senate approves his successor.
President Barack Obama has nominated Leon Panetta, currently CIA director, as the next defense secretary.
Gates warned graduates of a litany of potential future risks.
The national debt “could develop into a deep crisis for our nation,” he said. “At the same time, we face 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, and more.”
The comments highlight Gates’s advocacy of a strong military along with increased funding of the State Department and foreign aid to help sustain peace in postwar zones such as Iraq. Members of Congress are looking for budget cuts and President Barack Obama aims to pare military spending by $400 billion over 12 years to rein in the government’s deficit.
Gates had proposed $78 billion in spending cuts over the next five years and hoped to forestall deeper cuts. In his speech, he expressed concern over the nation’s economic health.
“At some point fiscal insolvency at home translates into strategic insolvency abroad,” he said.
Gates reiterated his call for careful trimming of defense spending by culling the bureaucracy, reviewing personnel costs and “reexamining missions and capabilities to separate the desirable or optional from the essential.”