Secretary Gates Addresses IISS Summit in Bahrain
The 5th IISS Regional Security Summit
The Manama Dialogue
Saturday 13 December 2008
First Plenary Session
The US and the Regional Balance of Power
Dr Robert Gates
Secretary of Defense, US
Thank you, John, for that introduction. My thanks to the Kingdom of Bahrain and His Majesty, King Hamad, for graciously hosting us once again. The United States and Bahrain have been friends for decades, and we look forward to working together for many more.
Much has changed in this region since we met last year. Of course, my country has had its own share of change. Some of you may have caught in passing the news of the presidential election last month. I bring from President-Elect Obama a message of continuity and commitment to our friends and partners in the region. Though the American political process is at times tumultuous and our open and vigorous debates might seem to indicate deep divisions, I can assure you that a change in administration does not alter our fundamental interests, especially in the Middle East. Throughout my career in government, which began over 42 years ago, the security of the Gulf has been a central concern of every administration for which I have worked. That will not change, especially considering the great challenges we all face, from the need to defeat violent extremism, to the necessity of forging a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians that will allow everyone in that region to live in peace and prosperity.
I had thought that my remarks today would be a valedictory and a farewell, but it was not to be. The President-Elect has asked me to stay on as Secretary of Defense and, as you know, I have accepted. I am honoured to continue leading the United States Department of Defense. I am doing everything in my power to ensure a smooth transition. More extensive planning has been done across the American government in preparation for this transition than at any time I can remember, and I have worked for seven presidents, soon to be eight. Anyone who thought that the upcoming months might present opportunities to test the new administration would be sorely mistaken. President Obama and his national security team, myself included, will be ready to defend the interests of the United States and our friends and allies from the moment he takes office on 20 January.
For the next few minutes, I want to talk about some of the most pressing issues that the United States and all the nations of the Gulf will face in the years ahead. Let me start with Iraq. As you know, the United States and Iraq just concluded a Status of Forces Agreement that calls for US combat troops to be out of Iraqi cities by the end of June, and out of Iraq by the end of 2011. This agreement balances the interests of both countries as we see the emergence of a sovereign Iraq in full control of its territory. It also marks an important step forward in the orderly drawdown in the American presence there. But, with the passage of the provincial elections law in September, the stage is set for January elections that we hope will draw more fully into the political process Iraqis who have been underrepresented in the government.
All of this indicates the dawn of a new era in Iraq, where a sovereign, independent and representative government has finally taken root. It is a government that increasingly looks at problems from a national, not an ethnic perspective, and whose solutions are increasingly driven by a non-violent, if sometimes contentious political process. It is also a government that desires to, and can, play an important and constructive role in this region.
Of course, that depends a substantial measure on the nations represented here. For the better part of 50 years, Iraq has presented a strategic problem for its neighbours and for the region, inflicting suffering on its own people, and on many others. I mention this because I am aware that in international affairs, old wounds do not heal easily. If, however, you look closely at Iraq’s economic and political potential, about what it can offer the Middle East, you will see that it is in everyone’s strategic interests to support the new government and the people of Iraq in whatever way you can.
Firstly, on the diplomatic front, the past year has seen a number of high profile diplomatic engagements from meetings between heads of state to exchanges of ambassadors, and more. I strongly encourage those nations that have not yet taken steps to restore full diplomatic relations with Iraq to do so. Iraq can only play a constructive role in this region if it is on an equal footing diplomatically, which also requires its government to take proactive steps, such as continuing to appoint its own ambassadors. Regional engagement also means that Iraq should be included in regional forums for economic and security cooperation, and considered for membership in Middle East organisations, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Secondly, on the economy, business and trade are key to the growth of Iraq’s economy, and therefore its long-term stability and security. Expanded trade will also benefit the region as a whole. Those countries that have not forgiven Saddam-era debt should try to move forward as quickly as possible and follow through with pledges they have already made. Iraq should continue to engage with regional multilateral financial institutions, as both a contributor to and recipient of training and development programmes, including the Arab Monetary Fund, the Islamic Development Bank, and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development.
Finally, there is the security situation. Earlier I mentioned that great progress has been made, but let me emphasise that it is the opinion of everyone – Americans, Iraqis, civilian leaders and military commanders – that the gains are still reversible. There remain those who wish to see the government of Iraq fail, and those who will continue to kill innocent civilians to further this goal, as we saw just a few days ago in Kirkuk. I do not need to impress on the nations represented here the dangers posed by al-Qaeda and its ideology. All of us have a stake in Iraq’s ongoing fight with extremists. Neighbours must lend support and increase their border control efforts, especially those who have thus far failed to live up to pledges to tighten border crossings. Further, I applaud and encourage the nations of the region to continue programmes that can dissuade potential recruits from joining extremist groups, or rehabilitate those who have. On this point I should note that much progress has been made, with innovative programmes to halt the tide of extremism and offer alternatives to those who are the most susceptible to the radical teachings of al-Qaeda. We must keep in mind that this is a fight that will require patience and resolve over many years, if not decades.
Unfortunately, no discussion of the security situation in Iraq is complete without mentioning Iran, a country whose every move seems designed to create maximum anxiety in the international community. There is no doubt that Iran has been heavily engaged in trying to influence the development and direction of the Iraqi government, and has not been a good neighbour. Much of that effort has been on training and supplying groups intent on undermining the government, more often than not through violence and attacks on Iraqi security forces and government installations and officials. Of course, the use of sub-national actors as Iranian proxies should be no surprise, considering the financial and military support that Tehran has long given organisations such as Hamas and Hizbullah, which also seek to undermine legitimate governments by violent means.
When it comes to Iran’s missile programmes, we all know that pictures can be deceiving. Even so, it is clear that Iran has this year tested long-range missiles that can hit any country in the Middle East. At the same time, Iran has continued its pursuit of a nuclear programme that is almost assuredly geared towards developing nuclear weapons. The last thing this region, or the world, needs is a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
What can be done about Iran? For starters, the international community has come together and increased pressure on Iran diplomatically and economically. I encourage you to implement fully the financial measures called for by the United Nations, but I think you can be even more influential by carrying out many of the actions I mentioned earlier.
By welcoming the new Iraq into the Arab fold, your and Iraq’s interests are aligned on a number of levels: in the fight against al-Qaeda and terrorism, in the desire to develop a vibrant and resilient economy, in efforts to bridge the sectarian divides in this part of the world, and in the necessity to limit Iranian influence and meddling, nationally and regionally, meddling that has already cost far too many lives. For other Arabs to withhold support and friendship because of the composition of Iraq’s government or because of past aggressions by a defunct government would be to increase the risk of the very outcome many in the region fear, just when Iraq is determining its future path at home and with its neighbours. Iraq wants to be your partner and, given the challenges in the Gulf and the reality of Iran, you should wish to be theirs.
Let me also say a few words about Afghanistan. As you know, the United States has focused more on Afghanistan in recent months and intends to add more resources and military forces next year. There is no doubt that it is a tough fight in Afghanistan, but it is one that is critical to the Middle East as a whole. Al-Qaeda and its ideology were incubated in the failed state of Afghanistan, and the extremists have largely returned their attention to that region in the wake of reversals in Iraq. It is a movement that began in that region, and it is a movement that must end there.
As we have seen from attacks across the Middle East, the danger reaches far beyond the borders of Afghanistan or Pakistan. In the last few years, there has been a substantial increase in resources devoted to Afghanistan. There are 42 nations, hundreds of NGOs, universities, development banks, the United Nations, the European Union, NATO and more all working to help a nation beset by crushing poverty, a bumper opium crop, a ruthless and resilient insurgency, and violent extremists of many stripes, not the least of which is al-Qaeda. The problem, of course, is that the operation is incredibly complex, and with so many partners, it is hard to keep everyone on the same page. Nonetheless, I believe that the upcoming year will see significant progress, the result of more resources, improved cooperation, and lessons learned over the past seven years. As with Iraq, the nations of the Middle East have much to offer the Afghan people. An enduring requirement is the ability to rapidly train, equip and advise Afghan security forces, as we are doing, to improve the size and quality of Afghanistan’s army.
I was heartened by the pledges made at the Paris support conference earlier this year by Gulf nations. I would ask that all countries here ask what more they can do, especially with regard to helping fund the Afghan army’s sustainment, as well as supporting the 2009 presidential elections, or sending security forces or civilian experts to help build Afghan capacity. Some nations have contributed field hospitals, and other needs include more engineers and agricultural experts, medical and de-mining teams, a variety of military equipment, and more. Finally, ensure that your governments are doing everything in their power to halt financing of the Taliban, whether through the legitimate banking system, or illicitly through the trade. This should include strengthening counterterrorism finance laws.
The final topic I wanted to discuss is related to what I have already mentioned: regional security through venues like the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Gulf Security Dialogue (GSD). While the GCC and the GSD cover a wide range of issues – from trade and energy infrastructure security to counterterrorism and regional stability – I want to focus on two in particular: air and maritime security.
Along with the traditional challenges facing our nations, there is a range of diverse unconventional threats that transcend national borders. Some are ancient, such as piracy, ethnic strife, and poverty. Others are of more recent vintage: terrorist networks harnessing new technologies, weapons proliferation, environmental degradation, and the emergence of deadly and contagious diseases that can spread more rapidly than ever before in human history. What these challenges have in common is that they simply cannot be overcome by one, or even two, countries no matter how powerful or wealthy. They require multiple nations acting with uncommon unity. That is particularly true of air defences and maritime security, areas where multinational cooperation is not just a preference, but a necessity.
The momentum from last year’s GSD meetings led to significant progress in air and missile defence throughout the Middle East. Several GCC nations are in the process of acquiring, or have expressed interest in, shared early warning, near real-time information on air and missile attacks that would allow maximum time for a nation to defend itself. Additionally, all GCC countries have expressed a desire to obtain, or are already obtaining, active defence systems. These procurements demonstrate the GCC’s commitment to regional security and interoperability with each other and the United States.
The need for increased maritime security, and potentially new and better means of cooperation, has been highlighted by the recent high profile acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden. As with terrorism, piracy is a problem that has serious international implications and should be of particular concern to any nation that depends on the seas for commerce. Earlier this year, the United States Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, established a maritime security patrol area in the Gulf of Aden and is leading an international coalition to keep shipping lanes safe. I thank Saudi Arabia for agreeing to support the effort and encourage other nations to do so.
Given the vast coastal areas of Somalia and Kenya, more than 1 million square miles, there are limits to patrolling alone; more must be done. Under the United Nations Security Council resolution passed last week, members of the international community must work together to aggressively pursue and deter piracy. Companies and ships must be more vigilant about staying in recommended traffic corridors, and should consider increasing their security personnel and non-lethal defensive capabilities. New efforts for countries represented here might include developing a maritime surface picture and standard operating procedures against seaborne threats beyond just piracy, such as terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and smuggling.
All told, multilateral efforts like these are encouraging. They bolster the defensive capabilities of everyone involved, while not diminishing pre-existing bilateral or multilateral relationships. They are a model for how all of us can better address the challenges of the twenty-first century by fostering cooperation between and among the nations of the Gulf.
Let me close with a personal observation. In preparing to, at some point, retire from government service, I have been pondering all I have seen since joining the United States government in 1966. There have been good times and bad times, and great successes and haunting failures, yet despite the challenges, no matter how tough the problems, I have always been amazed by the ability of many nations of the world to come together and get the big things right. For so long, many of the problems in this part of the world have seemed intractable. I believe, however, that there are many reasons for optimism, from an Iraq that is fighting its way out from the darkness of recent decades, to the unprecedented cooperation between nations of the Gulf as they, and we, face incredibly difficult and dangerous threats. As we look to the future, let us vow to continue and strengthen these activities, to cast aside old animosities and work together in the spirit of friendship to forge in the end a better and brighter future for all of the peoples of the Middle East. Thank you.
Questions and Answers - Provisional Transcript
Dr John Chipman
Mr Secretary, thank you very much for surveying all the subjects to be covered in detail at this dialogue and for giving the United States’ point of view so eloquently. It is now time for discussion and questions.
François Heisbourg, Chairman, IISS Council
Mr Secretary, thank you very much for a very remarkable and comprehensive speech. I think I will be speaking for many here in this room when I tell you how thrilled I am at the prospect of your staying on at the helm.
My question is about Afghanistan. You described the challenges and some of the responses, but I would like you to go into more detail about what you expect other nations to contribute in military terms. Since I am a European, what would you expect European partners and allies of the United States to be contributing? More generally, what would you consider to be the appropriate balance, the appropriate policy mix, between the military surge on the one hand, and the political and economic efforts in Afghanistan and in the region on the other hand?
Dr Robert Gates
One of my European colleagues remarked last year that I was guilty of megaphone diplomacy when it came to seeking additional help. At this point, US forces and the forces of our partner nations are about in balance. There are approximately 33,000 US troops, and approximately 33,000-plus troops from Europe and other partner nations. As is evident to everyone who reads the newspaper, we are looking at sending significant additional forces over the course of the next months; another brigade combat team will go in January, and we hope to send two more by late spring or early summer.
With respect to the Europeans and our other partner nations, it is important to recognise the achievement. The Europeans and our partners have actually increased their forces by about 10,000 over the past year, and that is an important achievement. I think it is also important in terms of fairness to remember that many of these nations also have deployments under the UN and other charters in places like Darfur, the Balkans, and elsewhere. People are doing their best. But, the reality is that the European members of NATO have approximately 2.5 million people under arms, not including the United States, and so I must admit to some frustration in trying to get some few thousand more to help us in particular to train the Afghan national army and national police. Ultimately, it is the Afghan forces who are everyone’s ticket out of Afghanistan, and for the long-term success of Afghanistan.
This is the Afghan’s fight. It is their country, their fight and their future that is at stake. I believe one of the highest priorities is to get the resources into the country to help train, accelerate the expansion of the Afghan security forces, and to get more of them into the fight in their own country. We need to make sure that we find ways to keep the Afghans up front. We are there to help them. We are not there as occupiers. We are not there necessarily for our own interests. We are also there to help the Afghan Government.
I do worry. I am prepared to go forward with the forces that the Commander has requested during 2009, but I do worry, ultimately, about the size of the footprint of foreign forces on Afghan soil. Having been engaged in the fight to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan more than 20 years ago, I am more mindful than most that, with 120,000 troops, the Soviets still lost. This is because they never had the support of the Afghan people. We need to give serious consideration as to how many foreign forces we should send in. After we complete these troop increases that we are talking about, we ought to think long and hard about how many more go in, whether they are from the US or Europe or anywhere else.
The reality is that we have to help the Afghans get onto their feet. This is where the economic side comes in, and the development side. Afghanistan is a desperately poor country. It is the fourth or fifth poorest country in the world. We are all going to have to be in Afghanistan for a very long time. A good example is the contrast between the government revenues of Iraq, which this year will be approximately $60-70 billion, and the annual revenues of the Afghan Government, which will be approximately $700 million. The sustaining cost of an Afghan national army of 134,000 people is approximately $2 billion a year. This is roughly three times the Government’s revenues. We are all going to have to be there for a long time.
Many countries are engaged in trying to help with economic development and the development of institutions in Afghanistan. My biggest concern is the lack of coordination of those efforts in Afghanistan. I am a huge admirer of Ambassador Kai Eide. I believe that, regrettably, Kai has not been given the tools that he needs to do the job by the UN: the money and the people. We also need to do more to help him in terms of providing him with information with what each of us is doing; in terms of development projects and the money we are spending on roads, and so on. He will then be able to evaluate what is working and what is not working, and help coordinate efforts.
The European emphasis on a comprehensive strategy that combines both security and economic development, and civic development, is exactly right. We have to recognise that we cannot win this fight with military power alone. The civil side has to be successful. This is a very long-winded answer to your question, but the bottom line is that we will be sending in some more forces. However, the real focus needs to be in keeping the Afghans up front. This is for the Afghan people. We must be seen as their ally and their friend, and not as occupiers. Finally, we have to sustain the economic development and institution-building in Afghanistan at the national, provincial and district levels.
Hamad al-Attiyah, GCC, Qatar
You began your speech by talking about the importance of a two-state solution for peace in this region, yet two related developments from President-Elect Barack Obama have been quite an unpleasant surprise for this region. The first is his declared support for a unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in a two-state solution. This goes against all agreements and international declarations, and non-US policy.
The second is a more recent statement by President-Elect Obama of providing a nuclear umbrella for Israel in case of conflict with Iran. Does this sabre-rattling not increase tensions in the region? Are we to expect further escalations in this regard? Does this nuclear umbrella also not create a qualitative security disparity between Israel and the GCC region, and thus make this area more exposed and a more likely target in the event of conflict? Finally, does this not contribute to escalating a nuclear arms race in the region, contrary to the request of this region to be free of weapons of mass destruction? Thank you.
Dr Robert Gates
Firstly, I am not familiar with the statements that you have cited from the President-Elect. I think it would probably not be appropriate for me to comment because I do not know the context. I would also say that, at this particular juncture, I have not had a substantive discussion with the President-Elect about US policies anywhere, except Iraq and Afghanistan. I look forward to having those discussions with him as we go forward.
I cannot speak for him, by any means, but I believe that there will be great interest in – and priority attached – not only to trying to achieve a two-state solution in this area, but also in doing everything possible to sustain the peace on the basis of mutual respect, and trying to avoid any further arms races of any kind in this region.
Raghida Dergham, Al Hayat
I would like to follow up on this issue of the ‘nuclear umbrella.’ Is there no such talk about a nuclear umbrella in the Middle East? When we speak of partnerships and forging new partnerships – some people refer to it as a ‘new order,’ a ‘new security order’ – what sort of partnerships do you envisage? Who do you think are the major players? Everyone has their own bouquet in terms of who belongs to these partnerships. When we hear about ‘dialogue with Iran’ and ‘recognising Iran’s dominance,’ what does that mean, what does that take, and what is that – in your view – all about?
Dr Robert Gates
My view is that partnerships and cooperation should not be an exclusive club. It ought to reach very broadly and include many countries, not just one or two or a handful. With respect to ‘Iranian dominance,’ I am not sure that I referred to ‘Iranian dominance.’ I am more focused on ‘Iranian meddling’ and ‘Iranian missile and nuclear programmes.’ I do not think that Iran is dominant. I think that the US and our friends and allies here in this region represent a significant deterrent to Iranian activities. However, the reality is that they are interfering, sub rosa, in many countries, and trying to destabilise them. Why does Hizbullah – occupier in Lebanon – have more missiles and rockets than most countries in the region? Iran’s efforts to destabilise the Government of Iraq; its efforts to try to defeat the Status of Forces Agreement; its interference in Western Afghanistan: what are all these activities about? What are Iran’s goals?
We all need to work together to try to bring about, collectively – through economic and diplomatic pressure – changes in Iran’s behaviour. Nobody is after a regime change in Iran. What we are after is a change in policies and a change in behaviour so that Iran becomes a good neighbour of people in the region rather than a source of instability and violence.
Dr Mamoun Fandy
I would also like to follow up on this question. What are the conditions that will make you engage Iran, peacefully or otherwise?
Dr Robert Gates
This is more the Secretary of State’s area of responsibility than mine, but the conditions that we have had heretofore, through the current administration, is that we are willing to talk with the Iranians anywhere, as long as they bring themselves within line of the UN Security Council’s resolutions. Clearly that means stopping their enrichment, and then seeing where we can go from there. I believe it is that simple.
Whether the new administration will broaden that aperture remains to be seen, but one thing that I can say with confidence is that the President-Elect and his team are under no illusions about Iran’s behaviour and what Iran has been doing in the region, and is doing in terms of its own weapons programmes.
Dr John Chipman
I said last night that the boundaries of Gulf security extended beyond the frontiers of present Gulf security organisations. I now call on Chung Ming Lee, the Advisor to the President of Korea, to pose a question. Korea has also been involved in this region.
Dr Chung Min Lee
Mr Secretary, I have a couple of questions. Firstly, what expectations do you have from an incoming Obama administration on key allies such as Japan and South Korea, in terms of ‘out of area’ operations, including Afghanistan and the Gulf. How can Japan and South Korea play their part to basically enhance security in this region?
Secondly, you mentioned humanitarian operations in the context of rebuilding Afghanistan, would you consider this as a potential agenda in the context of US, Japan, Korean trilateral cooperation?
Dr Robert Gates
Firstly, both Japan and Korea have been engaged in Afghanistan. Korea has also been engaged in Iraq. The Korean contribution in the north of Iraq has been an important one for quite some time. Japan has been very supportive in the Afghan theatre in providing fuel for ships, and has cooperated. This issue is not limited to just Korea and Afghanistan. There are a couple of issues that need to be addressed. Firstly, we need to find the resources to help sustain the Afghan national security forces for the indefinite future. I mentioned the cost a short while ago. It costs a lot less to train and equip an Afghan soldier than it does for any of our nations to send soldiers to Afghanistan. Therefore, one of the things that the US has done is to approach many countries around the world in terms of making a financial contribution to the sustaining of the Afghan national army and police. This is a very important initiative. If many nations contribute, it represents a relatively modest burden for any one nation. This is the first thing that everybody – including Korea and Japan – can do.
The second point is that there are almost infinite possibilities for humanitarian and economic assistance, and other forms of cooperation and help for Afghanistan that are welcome. These include medical help, agricultural development help, training of the forces, help with education and the schools, and so on. The list goes on and on. It is what we in the US would call ‘an open field for running,’ in terms of the opportunities that there are for nations worldwide to be helpful in Afghanistan.
Frank Gardner, BBC
With regards to the piracy and Somalia, we are getting some confused messages. The US is currently sponsoring a UN Security Council resolution that calls for authorisation to attack pirates’ land bases. As you probably know, and have probably seen in the reported media, the Commander of the US Fifth Fleet was quoted yesterday as saying he did not think this would be a good idea because of the difficulties of identifying pirates and the risk of killing innocent civilians. Which is the policy?
Dr Robert Gates
I think the answer is ‘yes’. I mentioned the fact that we are dealing with an area of approximately one million square miles. I think I heard a statement yesterday that it is three times the size of the Gulf of Mexico. Patrolling therefore has its limitations. The first and most significant thing that can be done is for the owners of the ships to give instructions to their captains to do minimally intelligent things, such as ‘speed up when the pirates come along.’ We have seen news reports of a cruise ship that, once it realised it was under attack, simply sped away from the pirates. The truth of the matter is that most ships can do that. However, too many ships simply stop. Another piece of advice is ‘pull up the ladders.’ This is not rocket science!
There are also passive defensive measures that can be taken that are available to ships. I know there is a concern among ship-owners about putting armed people on their ships. However, my suspicion is that many of these people in the business also have land-based warehouses with fences and guards on them. They might want to think about that for their ships as well.
At the end of the day, this has become a very good business. We first need better intelligence on who is behind it. I have read that there are actually two or three families, or extended clans, in Somalia who account for a substantial amount of this piracy. If we can identify who those clans are then we can potentially target them, under the auspices of the UN, and do so in a way that minimises the collateral damage; that minimises hurting innocent people in Somalia. I believe, with the level of information that we have now, we are not in a position to do that kind of attack on a land-based source of the piracy. However, I believe, at some point, if we are able to develop adequate intelligence, there would then be an opportunity to do that.
They do mingle with the population. Many of these villages are suddenly seeing an increase in the quality of their lifestyle thanks to the pirates spending their money. I think it is actually a combination of the measures that are taken on the water, and then, under the auspices of the UN, seeing if we can develop the kind of information that would make possible going after some of these groups in Somalia that seem to be the source of most of the attacks.
Fares Braizat, Jordan
Mr Secretary, I am encouraged by your statement that we cannot win this fight by military means alone. That means that there are other alternatives against terrorism and political violence across the region. There are two ways that we know of that have been in place. One is the mutually-assured military destruction through militarization of various countries in the region. The second is the mutually-assured peaceful cooperation through democratic means.
The strategy has failed, judging by the outcome of the Bush administration in the region. Democracy assures the second alternative – the mutual peaceful cooperation – as European history shows that it works. In your speech, it was not mentioned. The word ‘democracy’ was not mentioned. Even in your responses to the questions, it was not mentioned as a policy tool. My question is: has it disappeared as a strategy to build peaceful cooperation in the region knowing that democracy could moderate the extremist views and positions? Is there a new direction in that regard?
Dr Robert Gates
I think that the only path to long-term peace and stability is the expansion of democracy, and not just in the Middle East. We only have to look north to Iraq to see the price that has been paid to try to build a democracy there. We are all trying to defend a democracy in Afghanistan.
The promotion of democracy and human rights will always be a centrepiece of American foreign policy and American national security policy. It has been that way since the beginning of the Republic more than 200 years ago. If I did not underscore it, or if I did not give it enough emphasis, it is simply because I take it as a given.
The question is in terms of how to promote democracy. We have to be sensitive to the fact that democracy may be practised in different ways in different places, and in ways that are consistent with a country’s history and its culture. We cannot make every country in the world look like Vermont. We need to be sensitive, in the US, to the culture and the history of the countries with which we are dealing, but within the framework of promoting democracy and human rights in those countries. That would be my view on that.
Dr John Chipman
I am trying to include the most amount of people, but we will have to close in a few minutes so I will not be able to include everyone. I will ask the next two people to ask their questions briefly and in succession.
I have a specific question to the Secretary on Iran. Most recently, the Office of the Foreign Asset Control of the Treasury Department added the National Iranian Oil Cooperation to the list of the financial sanction, even if the NIOC is not a financial institution. There was no specific reason as to why the NIOC was added to the list. Can you work out the US policy on background intention of this?
Mr Secretary – or perhaps we have to call you Mr Secretary Re-Elect – it is interesting this year that there are no questions about Iraq. I guess people are not as interested in success as they are in problems. I believe that a word of gratitude to the US and its allies is actually in order in this forum. It has taken a long time. The loss of life, particularly Iraqi life, has been horrendous. However, the fact is that a stable, united, democratic Iraq is now within grasp. Extremism in the region has suffered a huge setback. That must be to the benefit of all states and governments in this area. The US has stood by its commitment that it would withdraw its forces and have no selfish interest in Iraq; that it would withdraw its forces once Iraq was able to provide for its own security. I hope the same degree of long-term commitment will be shown in Afghanistan, but for now – in case anyone else neglects to say it – thank you, the United States.
Dr John Chipman
I will take one more question.
Baria Alamuddin, Al Hayat
Mr Secretary, you mentioned the weapons of Hizbullah. What can you tell us about your cooperation with the Lebanese army? You seem to be quite shy in terms of cooperating with and helping them. Also, there is a perception in the area, and perhaps in the world, that the American military power is rather weak and unable to proceed with issues such as Iran. What will you be doing to correct this perception?
Dr Robert Gates
Firstly, with respect to the shipping lines, I will tell you unabashedly that the US will look for any possible means with our friends and allies to bring economic and political pressure to bear on the Iranian Government to change its policies. If we say that we want to try to change Iranian behaviour, and want to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and we want to avoid a conflict, then the way to get them to change their behaviour is to use every tool at our disposal to bring economic and political pressure on them. This is one of those means, and I think it was actually fairly creative.
Charles, thank you for your comments. They are much appreciated.
Over the last year and a half to two years, the US has provided approximately $400 million worth of assistance to the Lebanese armed forces. We applaud the stabilisation of Lebanon. We applaud the democratic process that is underway there. We strongly believe that the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese armed forces should have a monopoly of force in their own country, and that all others should lay down their weapons in Lebanon.
With respect to the final point, it is hard for me to imagine that anyone would consider that a country that spends over $500 billion a year on its military has a ‘weak’ military. The reality is that we talk about the stress on our ground forces, and that we have to spend money to reconstitute our forces, and that we need to reinvest in new and more modern systems. All of this is true. However, all you need to do is look around, or visit the Fifth Fleet headquarters, or fly a helicopter around the Gulf, in terms of American military power. I think that no one need every need think that the United States is weak or getting weaker. The President-Elect has been very forthright in his support for the military and for a strong American military. I see nothing in the future that will change that.
Ahmed Rashid, Pakistan
Secretary Gates, you have not talked about the challenge that you are faced with in Pakistan, and that the new administration will be faced with. I give you three very quick challenges. Firstly, the ease with which extremist groups based in Pakistan are able to travel around the world and launch terrorist attacks, as we have seen recently in Mumbai, and even the training given to a group in Belgium. Secondly, the attacks on US and NATO convoys going through Pakistan, and the apparent inability of the Pakistan army to protect these convoys. Thirdly, the presence of the Afghan Taliban leadership in Quetta, the ‘Quetta Shura’ about which US officials seem now not to be mentioning.
Dr Robert Gates
Firstly, the US has been very impressed with the transition to a democratic government in Afghanistan. We have been developing our relationship with that democratically-elected government over the past months. Pakistan needs to be our partner in this. Pakistan is a sovereign country. It is important that we work together with Pakistan to try to deal with the problems, particularly in the western part of Pakistan.
The Pakistani Army has very been aggressive in that area in recent months, and with some considerable effectiveness. It has a positive effect, in terms of reducing the number of Taliban people and other extremists who are crossing the border into Afghanistan. Pakistan’s government has come under the weight, in recent months, of the fact that they face an existential threat from these violent extremists who have declared their intention to overthrow the Government of Pakistan. We would like to see an evolving partnership with Pakistan, working with Afghanistan as well, to get control of that situation in the border areas. That in turn will address all three of the issues that you have raised.
Dr John Chipman
Mr Secretary, thank you for your participation, thank you for your speech, and thank you for your very wise answers to the many questions posed. We very much appreciate it. Thank you very much, sir.