On October 15, 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates delivered the keynote speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace’s first annual Dean Acheson Lecture. In his address, Gates called for the United States to develop national security institutions better able to respond to increasingly complex challenges in international conflict settings.
Primary among the Secretary’s recommendations was the need for better coordination and more balanced representation between military and civilian personnel in conflict zones. Promoting this kind of coordination has been a major component of USIP’s work for more than a decade.
As Acheson did "so brilliantly," stressed Gates, "We must be prepared to change old ways of doing business and create new institutions—both nationally and internationally—to deal with the long-term challenges we face abroad, and our own national security toolbox must be equipped with more than just hammers."
"The security of the American people will depend increasingly on our ability to head off the next insurgency or arrest the collapse of another failing state," reflected Gates. "I assume we will be able to count on organizations like USIP to continue down this road."
USIP has become a thought leader on institution building and civil-military coordination and a convener of sometimes-disparate parties involved in international conflict management. Among the Institute’s many efforts in this field, it recently contributed to a new U.S. Army stability operations doctrine that seeks to better integrate civilian and military efforts. For nearly a decade, the Institute has worked to develop the State Department’s new Civilian Response Corps, which prepares teams of specialized civilians to lead reconstruction efforts that have increasingly fallen to military hands.
In his speech, Gates highlighted violent extremism—particularly in Afghanistan—as a threat to national security. "That country has become the laboratory for what I've been talking about for the past year—how to apply and fully integrate the full range of instruments of national power and international cooperation to protect our security and our vital interests." He emphasized the need for strengthening the role of NATO, improved strategic communications with the Afghan people and training for Afghan security forces.
"It is a scenario Acheson could relate to," Gates said, noting the challenges faced by 42 countries and hundreds of NGOs working there as part of a multinational, civilian-military effort on the ground. He added, "Afghanistan is the test, on the grandest scale, of what we are trying to achieve when it comes to integrating the military and civilian, the public and private, the national and international."
Gates says the work of institutions like USIP is a key factor in helping the U.S. make the type of "enlightened counter-measures" needed to move forward.
No stranger to the work of USIP, Gates was an original member of the Iraq Study Group (ISG), which the Institute facilitated at the behest of Congress in 2006. He left the ISG to become Secretary of Defense shortly before the group issued its findings. "Little did I dream as we met in the Institute’s offices through the Spring, Summer, and early Fall of 2006 trying to come up with a constructive way forward in Iraq that my life was about to change dramatically."
Acheson: An Enduring Relevance
Gates drew parallels between today’s international setting and that of Acheson, who as Secretary of State at the dawn of the Cold War was a principal architect of American foreign policy for the next half century. Both were transformative periods that required the "full strength of America," as Acheson said, to integrate all the elements of national power to face new threats. In Acheson’s time the primary threat was the rise of the Soviet Union. Twenty years after the fall of the Soviets, America has emerged to the new threat of violent extremism and failing states.
Gates highlighted Acheson’s legacy as an inspiration to face modern challenges. "When America is willing to lead, when we meet our commitments and stand with our allies even in times of trouble, when we make the necessary institutional changes, when we make the necessary sacrifices… then great and good things can happen for our country and for the world. Dean Acheson believed this, and so do I."
In introducing Gates, USIP Board Chair J. Robinson West observed that, "Dean Acheson and Bob Gates are very much in the spirit and purpose of the United States Institute of Peace. They are practical and imaginative, as is USIP."
West noted that USIP instituted the lecture to honor Acheson, a "great man during times of challenge and change." "We need leadership which offers an understanding of the world in which we live as well as the strengths and limits of our own country. Dean Acheson provided it during his time, just as our speaker tonight provides it today."
West highlighted the importance of USIP’s new headquarters as a symbol for America’s values and aspirations for a safer, more peaceful and just world in the 21st Century.
Story text by Allyson Slater and Peter C. Lyon.