Secretary Gates at National Defense University
First, limits about what the United States - still the strongest and greatest nation on earth - can do. The power of our military's global reach has been an indispensable contributor to world peace - and must remain so. But not every outrage, every act of aggression, every crisis can or should elicit an American military response, and we should acknowledge such.
Be modest about what military force can accomplish, and what technology can accomplish. The advances in precision, sensor, information and satellite technology have led to extraordinary gains in what the U.S. military can do. The Taliban dispatched within three months, Saddam's regime toppled in three weeks. Where a button is pushed in Nevada and seconds later a pickup truck explodes in Mosul. Where a bomb destroys the targeted house on the right, leaving intact the one on the left.
But also never neglect the psychological, cultural, political, and human dimensions of warfare, which is inevitably tragic, inefficient, and uncertain. Be skeptical of systems analysis, computer models, game theories, or doctrines that suggest otherwise. Look askance at idealized, triumphalist, or ethnocentric notions of future conflict that aspire to upend the immutable principles of war: where the enemy is killed, but our troops and innocent civilians are spared. Where adversaries can be cowed, shocked, or awed into submission, instead of being tracked down, hilltop by hilltop, house by house, block by bloody block.
Secretary Gates at Kansas State University
The real challenges we have seen emerge since the end of the Cold War – from Somalia to the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere – make clear we in defense need to change our priorities to be better able to deal with the prevalence of what is called “asymmetric warfare.” As I told an Army gathering last month, it is hard to conceive of any country challenging the United States directly in conventional military terms – at least for some years to come. Indeed, history shows us that smaller, irregular forces – insurgents, guerrillas, terrorists – have for centuries found ways to harass and frustrate larger, regular armies and sow chaos.
We can expect that asymmetric warfare will be the mainstay of the contemporary battlefield for some time. These conflicts will be fundamentally political in nature, and require the application of all elements of national power. Success will be less a matter of imposing one’s will and more a function of shaping behavior – of friends, adversaries, and most importantly, the people in between.
Arguably the most important military component in the War on Terror is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we enable and empower our partners to defend and govern themselves.