WASHINGTON– Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in a Foreign Affairs magazine article, calls on the defense establishment to recognize the importance of low-intensity, irregular capabilities and unconventional thinking to succeed in the war on violent extremism. The outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan will set the stage for the United States’ ability to deal with future threats, Gates wrote in an article called “A Balanced Strategy: Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age,” published in the magazine’s January/February issue.

“To be blunt, to fail — or to be seen to fail — in either Iraq or Afghanistan would be a disastrous blow to U.S. credibility, both among friends and allies and among potential adversaries,” he wrote.

While calling it “irresponsible” not to look ahead to future conventional and strategic threats, Gates said the defense establishment can’t lose sight of today’s pressing requirements in the process.

The secretary expressed frustration over the Defense Department’s budget and bureaucracy, calling them overly committed to conventional modernization programs. He urged balance, as spelled out in the new National Defense Strategy, which gives equal focus to nonconventional capabilities and know-how.

“My fundamental concern is that there is not commensurate institutional support … for the capabilities needed to win today’s wars and some of their likely successors,” he wrote. Gates extended blame to the Pentagon bureaucracy, Congress and the defense industry.

Direct military force will continue to play a role in the prolonged, worldwide, irregular campaign against terrorists and other extremists, Gates acknowledged.

“But over the long term, the United States cannot kill or capture its way to victory,” he said. “Where possible, what the military calls kinetic operations should be subordinated to measures aimed at promoting better governance, economic programs that spur development, and efforts to address the grievances among the discontented, from whom the terrorists recruit.”

Those goals won’t happen overnight, he conceded. Instead, they’ll require “the patient accumulation of quiet successes over a long time to discredit and defeat extremist movements and their ideologies,” he wrote.

While the United States isn’t likely to face the exact circumstances taking place in Iraq or Afghanistan any time soon, Gates said, it should expect to encounter challenges elsewhere in the world. When facing these, Gates advised taking the indirect approach whenever possible. Building the capacity of partner governments and their security forces can prevent problems from turning into crises that require direct U.S. military intervention, he wrote.

The secretary, a staunch advocate of the “soft” as well as the “hard” elements of national power, lauded renewed emphasis on State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development capabilities. But even with more funding and manpower channeled to those organizations, Gates said, he doesn’t envision a day when military commanders won’t be tied in some way to security and stability missions.

He cited “impressive strides” the military has made in recent years to support those missions. These include steep increases in special operations funding and personnel, advances in the Air Force unmanned aerial operations programs, and a new Navy expeditionary combat command and restoration of its units capable of operating on rivers.

Meanwhile, he added, new counterinsurgency and Army operations manuals and a new maritime strategy incorporate lessons learned in recent operations.

Gates pointed to vivid reminders of the dangers insurgencies and failing states continue to present if not adequately addressed. These threats and others the United States is likely to face in the future are too big and too potentially catastrophic to be overlooked today, Gates wrote.

“The kinds of capabilities needed to deal with these scenarios cannot be considered exotic distractions or temporary diversions,” he said. “The United States does not have the luxury of opting out because these scenarios do not conform to preferred notions of the American way of war.”

Up Next

NAACP wants Feds to investigate Jacksonville, Fla. Sheriff’s Office

WASHINGTON– Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in a Foreign Affairs magazine article, calls on…