QUANTICO, Va., April 14, 2009 – The United States should focus more resources on recognizing developing problems abroad and assisting foreign governments through nonmilitary means, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here yesterday. In an interview during a visit in which he spoke to a group of 30 students and faculty at the Marine Corps War College, Gates said identifying these early warning signs is the foundation of what he referred to as “Phase Zero” operations, or government intervention that aims to help stabilize deteriorating situations in other countries.

“How do you identify a problem early and put in the resources — whether it’s train and equip or other partnership initiatives — so that American men and women in uniform don’t have to go fight, that we build indigenous capabilities that provide for stability operations, rather than having to go in and do it ourselves in ungoverned spaces in countries that are under stress?”

Traditionally, the Defense Department and the U.S. military has not focused extensively on building such partnership capacity. But the concept is now one of the department’s “big themes,” reflected in the significant amount of defense funding related to Phase Zero operations, Gates said.

“We’ve got quite a bit of money in the budget related to that,” he said. “I think it’s going to be one of the more interesting challenges.”

The Defense Department has a robust level of resources and personnel available for Phase Zero, Gates said, but the rest of government should bolster its capabilities as well to achieve a more unified approach.

“When you think of the number of people in the Department of Defense both in and out of uniform who spend their lives planning, doing operational concepts, thinking about the future, and doing that full-time,” he said, “it is a huge number of people in the [Office of the Secretary of Defense] and in the services and in the combatant commands.

“No other department of government devotes anywhere near the number of people to that that we do,” he said. “And so this is one of these areas where, in the longer term, the interagency needs to get better and stronger, frankly, to match our capabilities, so that our capabilities have the proper context in terms of the whole-government objectives.”

Gates cited the State Department as one agency that has not had sufficient resources required for an adequate “level of planning and looking ahead.” Key to any U.S. strategy rooted in stability operations is that it be carried out by government agencies working together, he said.

“I think it needs to be in the context of the interagency. There needs to be a broader national strategy with regard to these challenges, of which what we do is a part,” Gates said of the Defense Department.

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