26 November 2007

Institutions, Not Ammo, Says Defense Secretary

Secretary Gates says the U.S. government needs "new institutions for the 21st Century with a 21st Century mind-set." He told an audience at Kansas State University recent conflicts, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have proved that military power alone can not prevail in this century's challenges. He said that means devoting "considerably more resources" to other parts of the U.S. government.

Because we take war seriously, our defense department often leads in the new frontiers of science. The Internet you're using right now has evolved from an early DARPA program to connect computers.

How odd, then, if it is a pronouncement of the Secretary of Defense that helps to trigger thinking about new institutions for a new century. (I think that ultimately, these kinds of social constructs, in order to be effective, will have to be transnational rather than American, but that's a separate issue.)

We spend too much on defense. Our department of defense could be called a department of offense now that we've adopted a policy of preemptive wars. I'd join the chorus on all these complaints and more. But Gates' speech today is a reminder that defense issues have drawn some of the best minds and ideas of civilization.

It's quaint to laud a comment that development might be helped by something other than dropping bombs or kicking in doors. But Gates should be applauded for saying this. By virtue of his position, he has the attention of people the rest of us don't. How wonderful that he seems to be using that privilege wisely.


ThomasLB said...

One thing all of the big "terrorist" organizations- Hezbollah, Al Queda, the Taliban- have in common is that they have a civilian wing that provides food and medical care.

We could have done that, but the people at the top of the political/monetary pyramid didn't see any way that it could personally benefit themselves. So we didn't.

cce said...

I guess there's hope that our foreign policy will change over time but I remain skeptical.

Ron Davison said...

Actually, we do put effort into humanitarian aid, its just that no one in DC has seemed to have done the math on how many food packets you have to drop to offset one dropped bomb.

you always have to err on the side of hope.

David said...

My, my we're emotional about this aren't we? The question of "how much is enough?" is, as Charles Hitch and others have pointed out, not really the proper question. We wouldn't be making these posts if we hadn't spent "correctly" and a lot at various points in our brief history. And lucked out too.

Like Ron I laud Robert Gates for his forward-thinking even though it's hardly a zero-sum game. Do you suppose he got that smart directing the CIA?