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.