By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 19, 2008 - Problems with Russia highlight problems with NATO as the alliance attempts to take steadfast and prudent steps to shape the international environment, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today. Gates spoke to the Oxford Analytica in the ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough. The huge and magnificent estate was built by John Churchill, a brilliant general and savior of Europe in the early 1700s, and was the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, Britain's World War II prime minister.
The speech was the last event in a trip that took him to Iraq, Afghanistan and a NATO meeting in London.
Gates invoked Winston Churchill in his speech. He said America and Europe must "balance restraint in international affairs with the resolve and will to back up our commitments and defend our interests when called upon."
He used two examples from Churchill's life to make the point: the Munich Crisis of 1938 and the rush to World War I in August 1914.
Churchill had opposed any appeasement of Adolf Hitler, but in September 1938, then-British Prime Minster Neville Chamberlain traveled to Munich and ceded the Czechoslovakian region of the Sudetenland to Hitler.
"Still today, Munich is invoked as a case study of the need to confront tyrants, adversaries and threats, lest early inaction bring war and even genocide," Gates said.
In August 1914, a combination of miscalculation, hubris, bellicosity, fear of looking weak and runaway nationalism led to a cataclysmic and unnecessary war, the secretary said.
"In the crudest sense, failure to recognize one lesson – August 1914 – leads to the Somme," Gates said. "Failing to properly heed the other – September 1938 – leads to Dunkirk and Dachau."
Russia's current actions against Georgia have put the lessons of the past to the test, said Gates, who holds a doctorate in Russian and Soviet history from Georgetown University. Russia's policies are born of a grievance-based desire to dominate its neighbors, and do not represent "the existential and global threat the Soviet Union represented," he said.
Russia wants to be a 21st-century nation and enjoy the benefits of international norms, markets and institutions, the secretary explained, but it challenges the way these institutions are set up by its 19th-century big power actions.
"At the end of the day, Russia faces a decision: to be a fully integrated and responsible partner in the international community, or ... to be an isolated and antagonistic nation viewed by much of the world as little more than a gas station for Europe," Gates said.
Confronting such a challenge will require strength and solidarity between America and Europe, the secretary said.
"Our policies and responses must show a mixture of resolve and restraint," he said. "To be firm, but not fall into a pattern of rhetoric or actions that create self-fulfilling prophecies; to heed the lessons of both 1914 and 1938, but not be trapped by them."
Georgia is a candidate member of NATO, and many in Europe are having discussions about what Article 5 of the NATO Charter – which states that an attack on one country will be regarded as an attack on all – really means in light of the Russian attack on that country.
"We need to be careful about the commitments we make, but we must be willing to keep commitments once made," Gates said. "In the case of NATO, Article 5 must mean what it says. As the allied troops fighting in Afghanistan can attest, NATO is not a talk shop or a Renaissance Weekend on steroids."
As a military alliance, NATO requires trained, ready and -- above all -- deployable troops, Gates said. NATO is no longer the old garrison force that studied German Defense Plan positions and awaited Soviet tanks. But only five of the 26 NATO nations have met the alliance goal of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on national defense: France, Great Britain, Bulgaria, Romania and the United States. The European NATO allies have more than 2 million men and women in uniform, but most aren't deployable.
"The alliance, nonetheless, struggles to scrape together a few thousand more troops and a few dozen helicopters for our commanders in Afghanistan," the secretary said.
The fact that a major war hasn't been fought in Europe since World War II has to be regarded as a triumph, Gates said. But, he added, the pacification of the continent has gone too far.
"De-militarization has gone from a blessing to a potential impediment to achieving real and lasting peace, as real or perceived weakness is always a temptation to miscalculation and aggression," he said.
Gates quoted President George Washington, who told Congress in 1790, "To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace."
NATO must be prepared for war to give leaders and diplomats options and give enemies pause, Gates said. "We must try to prevent situations where we have only two bleak choices: confrontation or capitulation – 1914 or 1938," he said.
Influencing Russia is the obvious case, he added, but Iran is another.
"One of those bleak choices would be presented by an extremist regime possessing nuclear weapons that could be used for blackmail or set off a regional arms race," he said. "The other scenario is a costly and potentially catastrophic military intervention – the last thing the Middle East needs. That is why it is so important for strong, sustained economic and political pressure to continue, to head off that nightmarish narrowing of choices."