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American Forces Press Service

Gates: Coalitions Critical in Afghanistan, Other Security Missions

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2007 – After visiting some 50 countries during his first year running the Defense Department, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he’s yet to find one that doesn’t want to work with the United States.

He also spoke of the importance of coalitions in advancing security around the world.

“My view is that the notion that the United States … is terribly unpopular and nobody wants to work with us is just dead wrong,” Gates said during an interview yesterday with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel.

“I have yet to come to visit a single country, including Russia and China, where there isn’t an interest in cooperating with us and working together on areas of mutual interest,” he said. “So I think this notion that we are in ill odor around the world is certainly not consistent with any of the conversation that I have had anywhere.”

Gates called cooperation and coalition building critical to America’s defense and world security.

A lifelong student of history, the secretary said he heeds the advice of Gen. Fox Connor, a mentor to two prominent military commanders: Gens. George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower. “He had several axioms about a democracy fighting a war,” Gates said. “One of those was, ‘Never fight alone.’

“We have to be able to act unilaterally if we must,” the secretary said. “But it is always better to have allies in a conflict, as well as in peacekeeping endeavors.”

Gates pointed to the coalition in Afghanistan, with some 70 nations and organizations playing a part in helping the Afghans build a new democracy and improve their quality of life. “It not only provides a broad array of international support for what you are trying to do,” he said, “but they actually bring concrete skills and capabilities to help.”

As defense secretary, Gates has worked tirelessly to press the world community, particularly NATO, to increase its support for Afghanistan.

The international contribution varies greatly, he said. “The British are there in substantial force. The Australians are there in force. The Canadians are there in force,” he said, noting that Canadian troops have suffered heavy losses proportional to the size of their military and their representation in Afghanistan.

In addition, the Germans have “a very large presence” in northern Afghanistan, and the Dutch recently announced plans to extend their troop commitment for the Afghanistan mission another two years, Gates said.

“On the other hand, there are other allies that have the capacity that are not participating, or they are there and have so many restrictions on the use of their forces that it significantly reduces their contributions,” he said.

Gates emphasized the need for countries to reduce these caveats and increase their commitments during the NATO informal ministerial conference in Noordwijk, Netherlands, in October. Just last week, he delivered the same message to defense leaders from countries that provide troops to NATO’s Regional Command South in Afghanistan at a meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland.

But the secretary’s campaign for stronger coalition efforts expands beyond Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s borders.

Visiting Bahrain earlier this month, he pressed countries throughout the Persian Gulf to expand multilateral cooperation so they can better protect the region against threats from Iran and other destabilizing forces.

Gates told about 200 senior military leaders from 23 countries at the Manama Dialogue that broader security relationships with closer multilateral ties and cooperation are “an absolute necessity” in light of threats the region faces. Such a framework could help pave the way for a regional air and missile defense system that would provide a regional defense umbrella and deter a missile attack, he said.

“They have never done this together,” Gates said during yesterday’s interview. “We’ve done it bilaterally, but it would be much more efficient and much more effective if a group of countries was working together on it.

“So a fair amount of my travel has been, ‘How do we enlist more countries in working with us on this?’” he said.

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