At the University of Notre Dame’s commencement yesterday morning, outgoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reflected on the place of our military in securing peace: “Make no mistake, the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power—the size, strength and global reach of the United States military.” Arguing for a strong military against the backdrop of President Obama’s proposed cuts to the Pentagon, the secretary sought to address the issue of strategic solvency: “in this place and at this time.” Gates reminded listeners that “indispensable” though we may be, our place as guarantor of the international system is the product of the sacrifice of successive generations, and not something to be “taken for granted.”
The outgoing Secretary closed with the warning that “if America declines to lead the world, others will not.” What the secretary left unsaid is that the “others” most likely to replace us would almost certainly be less altruistic and equitable in their use of power than we have been. A decline in America’s global role would, in short, be to the detriment not only of Americans—including those of us who have led placid and uninterrupted lives while an all-volunteer force fights on our behalf—but also to the world at large.
Secretary Gates will be visiting the American Enterprise Institute this Tuesday, May 24, to discuss “America in the World.” Few are better equipped to reflect on the past and consider the future, and, in keeping with his Notre Dame address above, the secretary’s speech will doubtless be thoughtful and broad-ranged. AEI’s Center for Defense Studies has been busy looking at the current policy battle over the ends, ways, and means of American power. Check out the work of our Defending Defense project (a joint effort of AEI, the Heritage Foundation, and the Foreign Policy Initiative), and read up before the secretary speaks: “Setting the Record Straight on U.S. Military Requirements” and “China’s Military Build-up: Implications for U.S. Defense Spending.”