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Gates: US military must retool to fight terrorism

Says conventional weapons outdated

By Bryan Bender
Globe Staff / December 5, 2008
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WASHINGTON - In a sign of reforms to come at President-elect Barack Obama's Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates writes in a new article that he believes the military-industrial complex remains too infatuated with conventional weapon systems and must give greater emphasis to tools better suited to defeating violent extremism and guerrilla insurgencies.

"What is dubbed the war on terror is, in grim reality, a prolonged, worldwide irregular campaign - a struggle between the forces of violent extremism and those of moderation," Gates, the first defense chief to be asked to stay on by a new president from the other political party, writes in the upcoming issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. "Direct military force will continue to play a role in the long-term effort against terrorists and other extremists. But over the long term, the United States cannot kill or capture its way to victory."

Gates, an outspoken supporter of beefing up American diplomatic might since becoming President Bush's Pentagon boss in 2006, takes on the entrenched forces in the Defense Department, the Congress, and the nation's largest arms makers

He expresses deep concern that those powerful interests remain far too wedded to the old ways of doing business - building fighter jets, warships, and tanks - and are risking American security in the process.

"We must not be so preoccupied with preparing for future conventional and strategic conflicts that we neglect to provide all the capabilities necessary to fight and win conflicts such as those the United States is in today," Gates writes inthe Council on Foreign Relations publication.

"Support for conventional modernization programs is deeply embedded in the Defense Department's budget, in its bureaucracy, in the defense industry, and in Congress. My fundamental concern is that there is not commensurate institutional support - including in the Pentagon - for the capabilities needed to win today's wars and some of their likely successors."

The stakes could not be higher, according to Gates, tapped by Obama earlier this week to stay in his job indefinitely.

"The recent past vividly demonstrated the consequences of failing to address adequately the dangers posed by insurgencies and failing states," Gates writes. "The kinds of capabilities needed to deal with these scenarios cannot be considered exotic distractions or temporary diversions. The United States does not have the luxury of opting out because these scenarios do not conform to preferred notions of the American way of war."

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