Gates on Balance

In an article he penned for Foreign Affairs, Defense Secretary Robert Gates explains why he has pushed so hard for developing irregular warfare capability—earlier coining the term “next-war-itis” to denigrate those he thought were too focused on developing conventional capability for the next major war. He says it comes down to the fact that there is already a “deeply embedded” constituency for conventional modernization both within DOD and in Congress. Gates asserts, “It would be irresponsible not to think about and prepare for the future.” In his view, “The United States needs a military whose ability to kick down the door is matched by its ability to clean up the mess and even rebuild the house afterward.” (Just to be clear, Gates does say that there is a national security civil component in this “afterward” work that needs bolstering.) The SECDEF also acknowledges that the US “cannot take its current dominance for granted,” noting that both Russia and China are boosting their militaries “to include air defense and fighter capabilities that in some cases approach the United States’ own.” (Many argue that they have surpassed our 4th-generation fighter force.) But, he advocates keeping “some perspective,” because he believes that US air and sea forces “have ample untapped striking power” and calls the risk of facing a major conventional war on short notice “a prudent and manageable one.” Gates wants a “better balance” to meet a projected “blended high-low mix of adversaries and types of conflicts.”