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Posted on Oct 3, 2008 in War College

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’ Speech, September 29, 2008

By Armchair General

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates addresses the audience during a visit to the National Defense University, Fort McNair, Washington, D.C., on Sept. 29, 2008. DoD photo by Cherie Cullen.

The U.S. military’s ability to kick down the door must be matched by our ability to clean up the mess and even rebuild the house afterward.

National Defense University (Washington, D.C.)

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Washington, D.C., Monday, September 29, 2008

Thank you Colonel Noto. I appreciate this opportunity to address this class at National Defense University. I congratulate you all for being selected for the courses you are in, and thank you for your career of service to our country.


This morning, I’d like to discuss some of the ideas and analysis, as well as points of contention, behind the National Defense Strategy – and then offer my perspective on its institutional implications. In effect, what this means for the current and future American way of war. This is going to take a little time and I hope you’ll bear with me. Just be thankful it’s not an after-dinner speech. I also confess that I’m fighting a cold and should I literally choke up in the middle of this thing I have an able understudy who will come up and finish this thing while I sit there and grade his performance.

The defining principle driving our strategy is balance. I note at the outset that balance is not the same as treating all challenges as having equal priority. We cannot expect to eliminate risk through higher defense budgets, to, in effect “do everything, buy everything.”

Resources are scarce – and yes, it is a sign I’ve already been at the Pentagon for too long to say that with a straight face when talking about a half trillion dollar base budget. Nonetheless, we still must set priorities and consider inescapable tradeoffs and opportunity costs.

So, this morning, I want to discuss the span of threats our country faces, assess the military capabilities we need, and then offer some thoughts on the shifts required for the U.S. defense establishment – in priorities, procurement, and institutional culture – as we assess and balance future risk. Lest there be any doubt, this is a speech about hard power.

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  1. Spot on speech and would have greater impact if Gates would be around much longer than January. Very possible that by November he will know that he will be replaced. The tasks and challenges he has outlined may be just as formidible as those faced by General Abrams in Vietnam and there is no guarentee that he will succeed in changing those institutionalized systems. His comments on insurgency echo those found in the new book “Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare”. Good luck to him.

  2. Armchair General staff cannot respond here. Please read
    disclaimer just above this text box before posting.

    Secretary Gates’ speech is the best articulation of the necessary
    changes that must be made within the military to meet current
    and future challenges. It squares with my own reading and the
    stories told by my son when he returned from Afghanistan.

    I am not optimistic that whomever wins the next election will
    find a new Secretary of Defense with a similar vision.

  3. Excellent comments by Mr. Gates and I hope the next
    Adminstration and Congress take it’s message to heart. Playing
    political football with defense procurement is one of the ills of the
    system that Secretary Gates cannot easily comment on but I can
    and I urge ACG readers to help make sure that their legislators in
    the next Congress get and understand Gates message.

  4. Has Obama approach any nominees for Secretary of defense? I’m
    Doing this a project for my english class. Thanks