WASHINGTON, July 31, 2008 – Balance is the key word of the new National Defense Strategy, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a news conference today.
Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the U.S. military must be prepared to perform the full range of missions.

The department must be ready to wage a full-out war and handle irregular warfare and humanitarian missions, Gates said.

“Now, the reality is that conventional and strategic force modernization programs are strongly supported in the services and in the Congress,” Gates said.

The main fiscal 2009 defense budget is a concrete example of that support. It contains $104 billion in procurement and about $80 billion in research and development funding, heavily slanted toward conventional modernization programs. Funding for the irregular wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and other areas in the world has come from supplemental budgets.

“The principal challenge, therefore, is how to ensure that the capabilities gained and counterinsurgency lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the lessons we learned from other places where we have engaged in irregular warfare over the last two decades, are institutionalized within the defense establishment,” Gates said.

The secretary said he does not want the military to forget the lessons that troops have learned at such a painful price. “Looking to the future, we need to find a long-term place in the base budget for [these lessons],” he said.

Conventional modernization plans certainly are important, Gates said, noting they keep the military capable of defending the homeland, deterring conflict, and — when deterrence fails — winning the nation’s wars. But the most obvious threat the United States faces in the coming years, he said, comes from non-state actors using asymmetric tactics.

“I firmly believe that in the years ahead, our military is much more likely to engage in asymmetric conflict than conventional conflict against a rising state power,” he said. “We must be ready for both kinds of conflict and fund the capabilities to do both.”

In the past, irregular warfare has not had the support inside or outside the Pentagon that it requires, the secretary said.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the modernization programs will continue to have strong institutional and congressional support,” he said. “I just want to make sure that the capabilities we need for the conflicts we’re in and most likely to face in the foreseeable future also are sustained long term.”

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