Friday, April 17, 2009

Some Thoughts from Secretary Gates

The Secretary of Defense has been making the rounds of the war colleges and is speaking today at the Naval War College. Some of the themes that caught my ear:

--we need to stop thinking about a black and white distinction between "irregular warfare" and "conventional warfare" and start thinking about a spectrum of conflict. Even near-peer competitors of the United States may resort to irregular or assymetric means to counter U.S. advantages. So the U.S. military and national security apparatus has to be able to respond flexibly.

--our defense posture must be rooted in "real world assessments" and take into account U.S. limits. (Shades of Walter Lippmann?)

--you continue to purchase systems that are proven to be first in their class rather than buying things that are based on promising but yet unproven technologies. Listening to this, I was struck by the comparison with the Russian space program, which continues to use tried and true technologies rather than trying to develop new things for the sake of newness. If the Soyuz capsule works, stick with it--and try to modify it if there are new missions before going to the drawing boards for something completely new.

--his take on the military priorities of rising powers: they are not going to bankrupt themselves trying to match the U.S., particularly in trying to compete ship for ship with our navy. So he doesn't expect any arms races a la Britain/Germany prior to World War I. That's the good news. The not so good news: rising powers will concentrate their efforts on finding ways to neutralize U.S. capabilities.

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