Secretary of Defense Robert Gates - Speech and Q&A Session with Students

November 9, 2007
Sophia University
Tokyo, Japan

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE GATES: Good morning, and thank you, Ino-sensei, for your warm introduction and this opportunity to be part of Sophia University's lecture series.

As a historian and former university president, I am particularly gratified to be here with you in this center of learning, where ideas are valued, open debate is encouraged, and scholars may pursue knowledge. In fact, since becoming US Secretary of Defense 11 months ago, I have spoken to students at four different universities, including three graduation ceremonies. I have reached out to students because I believe in challenging them - our future leaders - to reach their full potential as responsible citizens of their country and of the world.

I was particularly impressed that Sophia University has more than 500 international students enrolled from more than 50 countries, as well as partnerships with 125 colleges and universities overseas. This university, in this country, at this time, is a particularly appropriate setting to discuss the security challenges we face together in Asia, challenges that require vibrant and growing partnerships among nations of shared values and interests.

On September 4, 1951, President Harry Truman spoke at the opening of the San Francisco conference on the peace treaty with Japan. At the time, a bitter war was raging on the Korean Peninsula, and the free world was reconciling itself to a long struggle against communist expansion. In the week prior, the United States had signed mutual defense treaties with three other Pacific nations - Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines. Truman said something then I think holds as true today, as we think about meeting Asia's challenges together in the 21st century. He said: "In the Pacific, as in other parts of the world, social and economic progress is impossible unless there is a shield which protects men from the paralysis of fear. But our great goal, our major purpose, is not just to build bigger and stronger shields. What we want to do is advance the great constructive tasks of human progress."

America's commitment to Asia in the decades since has been sustained through multiple administrations of both political parties. The result has been strategic, political, and economic stability that has improved the lives of billions of people. And that commitment is no less strong today, regardless of the challenges we face in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Periodically, we see speculation casting doubt on the future of the United States in Asia, sometimes prompted by changes in US political leadership or the repositioning of US military forces. In fact, far from neglecting Asia, we are more engaged than ever. We have forged, reshaped, or renewed security partnerships throughout the Pacific Rim.

In recent years, our security arrangements with Japan have evolved from their Cold War orientation, reflecting both the transformed threat environment and Japan's ability and willingness to play a larger role in its own defense. We have been realigning and repositioning forces here, while cooperating in new areas such as missile defense and sharing new roles and missions with the Japanese Self-Defense Force.

Earlier this week, I visited the Republic of Korea for a successful annual Security Consultative Meeting. We are working with South Korea to establish a new vision and force posture that goes beyond the current security situation on the Peninsula and meets the future global needs of both countries. We are preparing for a historic transition in 2012, when the Republic of Korea military will take wartime command in the defense of their own country, and the US forces will assume a supporting role.

America's pivotal alliance with Australia is based on a longstanding history of standing together against aggression through multiple conflicts over nearly a century. A newer and welcome development is that Australia is taking a larger regional and global role in affairs, with their leadership role in East Timor and their deployments in recent years to the Middle East and Central Asia.

Our relationship with India - the world's largest democracy - has evolved from an uneasy coexistence during the Cold War to a growing partnership today. Since the 2005 summit between President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Singh, we have expanded our cooperation in a number of areas, including military-to-military exchanges.

And then there are nations like Mongolia, once part of the communist bloc and now a strong partner in the war on terrorism. Mongolia is also making a contribution to global security by supporting UN peace operations and the NATO mission in Kosovo.

Beyond strengthening our traditional alliances and forging new ties, the United States is reinforcing its own capacity in the region. We are investing in new capabilities and infrastructure - gains that will be critical to raising the region's overall ability to respond to security challenges, natural disasters, and potential crises.

In an address to the Japan National Press Club last month, United States Ambassador Schieffer noted that after the Second World War, Asia's security architecture mostly reflected a "hub and spokes" model, with the US as the "hub" and the "spokes" representing a series of bilateral alliances with other countries that did not necessarily cooperate much with each other. The US alliance system has been the cornerstone of peace and security in Asia for more than a generation. These alliances are enduring and indispensable. But we would like to see more engagement and cooperation among our allies and security partners, more multilateral ties rather than hubs and spokes. The trilateral dialogue between the United States, Japan, and Australia is a good example.

The major challenges facing the region, such as North Korea and nuclear proliferation, cannot be overcome by one or even two countries, no matter how wealthy and powerful. They require multiple countries of shared interests to come together to deal with a number of key challenges, areas where each partner can bring unique capabilities to bear for the common good.

Terrorism and violent extremism are a threat to the very fabric of international society, and Asia is not immune. This city suffered a poison gas attack in its transit system in 1995. And then there were the Bali bombings and activities by Islamist groups in the Philippines and Indonesia. It is a long distance from New York's World Trade Center to a Tokyo subway station, but the threat posed by radical groups with violent ideologies is the same. The terrorists have learned to exploit the strengths of modern societies - our technology and infrastructure - and in the case of democracies, our freedoms and our openness as well.

During my visit to Singapore on June 1, I challenged regional leaders to play an even bigger role in integrating Central Asia into the Asian security architecture. There are several areas, such as infrastructure development, capacity building, and security assistance, where East and South Asia can do more.

As we've learned on more than once occasion, instability or failed states halfway around the world can have serious implications at home. In no region is this truer than in the Middle East, not just with regard to Iraq but with the behavior and ambitions of Iran and the operations of terrorist and militia groups. It is worth remembering that Japan imports 80% of its oil from the Gulf to power its economy.

The proliferation of dangerous weapons and materials to terrorists and others is another major threat. The United States knows we cannot block the flow of these weapons on our own, which is why we work with partners to improve physical security, interdict shipments, and employ sanctions when necessary. The Proliferation Security Initiative is the cornerstone of this effort and is showing results in Asia.

Maintaining a reliable deterrent against attacks from ballistic missiles is a critical objective of our national security strategy. Building this capability and countering this threat is of special significance to the people of Japan, given the direct danger to your homeland posed by North Korea's weapons programs. As a defensive measure, we are working together to create a network that both deters aggression and provides protection in the case of a missile launch.

We also recognize the importance of maintaining free and secure routes and infrastructure. The Container Security Initiative is one element of our strategy. President Bush also approved the 2005 National Strategy for Maritime Security to help prevent piracy and other hostile and illegal acts within the maritime domain.

Calamities such as the 2004 tsunami, the devastating earthquake in Central Asia, and the typhoons that ravage this part of the world demonstrate the need for a regional approach to assisting Asian nations in their time of need, and we are working with partners to prepare and fine-tune our collective response before disaster strikes. We are also preparing for other nontraditional security threats that result from infectious diseases, such as pandemics, avian influenza, and SARS.

Although there has not been a single major conflict in Asia for over three decades, the Northeast corner of the Pacific remains one of the last places on earth with the potential for a nuclear confrontation. We are working with China, Russia, Japan, and the Republic of Korea through the six-party talks to pressure North Korea to forgo their nuclear ambitions. These talks have had a stabilizing effect on the region in the aftermath of the North's missile and nuclear tests of 2006. We now have a mechanism in place to forge cooperation on the longstanding problem of North Korea's behavior and nuclear ambitions.

These challenges are taking place in a context being shaped by the rise and reemergence of China and Russia, two nations at strategic crossroads taking on a more assertive role in world affairs. I've just come from China, where I met with senior officials who confirmed their desire to cooperate more in order to address common security challenges. I do not see China as a strategic adversary. It is a competitor in some respects and a partner in others. While we candidly acknowledge our differences, it is important to strengthen communications and to engage the Chinese on all facets of our relationship to build mutual understanding and confidence.

We continue to raise with China the need for greater transparency and candor in their strategic military motivations, decision-making, and key capabilities. In particular, we remain concerned about the pace and scope of China's military build-up. This concern is responsible and appropriate. A lack of transparency carries with it the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation, and naturally prompts others to take actions as a hedge against uncertainty.

Russia is another relationship where we must overcome a measure of distrust and doubt. When Secretary Rice and I visited Moscow last month, we made some progress towards setting up a regular dialogue to deal with a range of issues that have divided us, including Russia's concerns regarding missile defense. Our proposal to pursue a partnership with Russia in this area was real and sincere, and we look for Russia to be equally innovative and forthcoming.

I recall that during the 1970s, many people discounted the value of holding strategic talks with the former Soviet Union, because these meetings often did not lead directly or immediately to new arms control breakthroughs. It turned out that maintaining that dialogue helped each side better understand the other's intentions, and laid the groundwork for gains that ultimately brought the Cold War to a close. The situation we face with Russia and China is nothing close to the old superpower conflict, but the lessons from that period with regard to keeping open lines of communication still apply today.

I would like to close with some thoughts on the future direction of our relationship with Japan. It has been just over 55 years since Japan was invited to take her rightful place of equality and honor among the free nations of the world. At the time, President Truman expressed his confidence that the people of Japan are ready and willing to play their full part in meeting the common menace. Japan became a stalwart ally and anchor of democracy and prosperity in Asia through some of the most difficult days of the Cold War. Our friendship held fast through the inevitable turbulences along the way, from political turmoil to sometimes-nasty trade disputes.

I recall well the build up to the first Gulf War with Iraq in 1991. Japan contributed significant financial support, but no military forces. At the time, Japan was criticized by some for what was called "checkbook diplomacy." Since then, Japan has found more direct ways to contribute to international security. We've seen the support Japan has provided to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq as they rebuild nations torn apart by war, dictatorship, and sectarian division.

When my colleague Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke at this university in 2005, she said, "Japanese leadership in advancing freedom is good for the Pacific community, and it is good for the world." Japan has the opportunity - and an obligation - to take on a role that reflects its political, economic, and military capacity. That is why the US strongly supports Japan becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. And that is why we hope - and expect - Japan will choose to accept more global security responsibilities in the years ahead.

We must continue to ask each other as partners in this alliance: What should Japan and the US do together, and with others, to secure our mutual interests? Do we have the proper capabilities, individually and collectively, to address future challenges and uncertainties? Have we the proper mechanisms and infrastructure to meet our common objectives? These questions underlie the alliance transformation effort we have undertaken over the last few years. But we need to deepen our discussion, and more importantly, need to be prepared to act on our findings and make the investments now that will better prepare us for the future.

As you can see from the range of issues I've mentioned, the security landscape of the present and foreseeable future will be complex. Your generation will face many challenges, but it will also have undreamt of opportunities, barely seen yesterday, barely visible today. What will remain constant is the partnership of shared interests and values between our two nations.

A living example of that friendship, as many of you probably know, has been the cherry tree. In 1912, Japan gave the United States over 3,000 cherry trees, including 12 different varieties, as a symbol of friendship and goodwill. The wives of the American president and the Japanese ambassador planted the first two trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington. The remaining trees were planted in a ring just across the Potomac River. What is less well known is that 70 years and two World Wars later, the United States had an opportunity to reciprocate this gesture, when we provided cuttings from our trees to replace those destroyed by a flood in Japan.

Next spring, from my office at the Pentagon, I will be able to see the trees from my window. Every day, people from around the world visit Washington to view thousands of pink and white flowers in bloom. And the first two trees - planted almost a century ago - still stand today, a living symbol of the enduring ties between our countries. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Hello. My name is Kaya Moto. I'm a junior in the English Department. You talk about Japan's international responsibility. So could you give me more details about what you mean by "Japan should assume its responsibility in international terms"?

SECRETARY GATES: Well, I think that there are several examples where Japan already has exercised international responsibility. Japan is one of the largest donors for economic reconstruction and development in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Japanese refueling effort of coalition ships has made a huge difference, and it's not just between United States and Japan, but there are a number of other countries that have benefited from Japan's fueling operations. And there are perhaps a dozen countries that have received fuel directly, but it has benefited all of the 40 countries that are engaged together in Afghanistan. So I think it's a good example of Japan fulfilling a broad international responsibility.

Another is the potential for Japanese participation in a variety of peacekeeping operations around the world. There are obviously always opportunities, unfortunately, presented by international disasters, such as the tsunami, the earthquakes, and things like that, so those are some examples of the kinds of activities that Japan already has engaged in, and opportunities for further involvement.

QUESTION: Dr. Gates, I'm grateful to you for your visiting our university. My name is Rei Inawa. I'm a sophomore of Sophia University. There are a lot of issues between the US and Japan now. Could you tell us about the Japanese abducted by North Korea? I think America is becoming tolerant toward North Korea these days.

SECRETARY GATES: Is becoming what?

QUESTION: Tolerant.

SECRETARY GATES: Too tolerant? We have very strict expectations of the North Koreans through the six-party talks. With respect to the Japanese abductees, I was present in the meetings that the President had when Prime Minister Abe visited Washington this summer, and I can tell you that there was a great deal of attention focused on the abductee issue, and the President spoke out publicly. We have supported Japan in terms of trying to get the abductees back. We have told the North Koreans of our support for Japan, and we have made clear to them that we feel as strongly about it as the Japanese. With respect to the six-party talks and denuclearization, we are pleased that the disablement has begun of some of the nuclear facilities. The next major step will be the unilateral - declaration by the North of its facilities and nuclear capabilities. That will be a test of whether they are prepared to abide by the agreements they have made. And of course our objective is ultimately the denuclearization of the entire Korean Peninsula. I see this as a step-by-step process, and we have to be very firm with the North in ensuring that they fulfill each of their obligations as we move down this path.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Dr. Gates. I'm Koji Ito, a senior from the English Department, and I'm majoring in international relations. On a lighter note, I studied at Georgetown, so I was a Georgetown Hoya.

SECRETARY GATES: If you can ever figure out what a Hoya is, be sure and tell me. [laughter]

QUESTION: My primary concern is the US involvement in multilateral security cooperation in Asia. I understand that the US bears the dilemma of maintaining strong bilateral alliances with the regional players, and also pursuing comprehensive security policy for the region as a whole. It seems to me that this reduction of American troops from Korean Peninsula and Okinawa calls for articulation of measures to ensure regional stability to balance out with physically diminished American presence. In this sense, I'm curious to know how the multilateral security dialogues are set from the American viewpoint, and how that is related to the current American military posture in the Asia-Pacific. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY GATES: First of all, the transformation of our military relationship and presence in the Republic of Korea is really a reflection of the growing wealth and maturity of South Korea itself, and the ability of Koreans to take on an increasing measure of responsibility for their own security. We will continue to have a presence there. We will continue to be committed to the security of South Korea and our other allies such as Japan here in Asia, so as I indicated in my talk, the reposturing, the repositioning of our forces is really a reflection of the maturing of our alliance relationships here in Asia, specifically with Japan and the Republic of Korea, and does not in any way represent a lessening of our commitment to either.

I think what we have in mind when it comes to Asia and a more multilateral approach is, as I suggested in my remarks, to be honest about it, for many years the United States had better relations with a number of different Asian nations than they had with each other. And it made the bilateral relationships the centerpiece of our security arrangements. All that has changed over the past 15 or 20 years, and particularly with the end of the Cold War. And so now it seems to us that there is an opportunity, for example, for closer US-Republic of Korea-Japan cooperation; US-Japanese-Australian cooperation; the involvement of India. So there is an opportunity here to grow multilateral relationships where each country works to its strength, in terms of the security situation in the region. And it seems to me this also reflects the growing importance of all of these countries, in terms of their own security, and the importance of them taking responsibility for their own security and not just depending on the United States to be the guarantor. So I think that this evolution from these bilateral relationships, in which the United States played the principle security role, to a more equal relationship between the United States and our allies, and then among our allies themselves, represents the next step forward in Asia, and I think that's the picture that we should aim for in 21st century Asia.

QUESTION: Good morning, Dr. Gates. I'm Akari. I'm a senior in the English Department. I was once living in America, and I think America is kind of a difficult place to live if you're not rich, because it's not free to go to university or free to go to hospital like Venezuela, Cuba, or European countries. And I believe that if America is a country for people, I think they should spend more money for social welfare things rather than military stuff. So can you weel me your opinion about the appearance of the money the government spends onto the social welfare thing and the military stuff, please?

SECRETARY GATES: Sure. Well, there are a number of - this is clearly not my field, but I would tell you, I would draw on my experience as president of Texas A&M University. Texas A&M has nearly 47,000 students. It has one of the highest percentages of first-generation college students among top research universities in America. About 25% to 30% of the students at Texas A&M are the first in the whole history of their family to go to college. Virtually all of them come from families with a combined family income of under $40,000. Most of those students go to Texas A&M for free, through a combination of scholarships and grants and part-time jobs and so on. So I see Texas A&M as an example of a modern university continuing to be a vehicle for social mobility for people who come from very poor families to open up a future for them.

In terms of healthcare, a lot of the social benefits that are often managed and run by the central government in many countries are largely a state responsibility in the United States, and so the difference between the states can be fairly profound. And some states have very generous benefits, social welfare benefits, and spending on education, and frankly other states, which tend to be somewhat poorer states, are not as generous. I think it is clearly an important issue in America. And I think some of the issues that you raised are likely to be campaign themes in the upcoming presidential election.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you, Mr. Secretary. My name is Tadaaki Yano. I teach international relations here. Before serving in the field of national security and intelligence, you have been involved closely in the academic world, and I understand your dissertation was on Soviet sinology. And many of us here at Sophia University are involved in the study of history, politics, and area studies. Could you perhaps reflect upon the synergies you have experienced in straddling these two fields, academia and national security and public service? I mean, if you can recall some experiences where your academic training has served you well, or did not serve you well. Thank you.

SECRETARY GATES: For a number of years, I was the head of the analytical side of the Central Intelligence Agency, and in many respects it is like a large university. They are looking - the analysts are looking at different countries of the world. They are looking at different developments around the world trying to assess where events are going, trying to understand things that are going on at the current time. Many of them have doctoral degrees. Many of the analysts have doctorate degrees. Most of them maintain contact with academic experts in universities around the United States that are expert in an area such as, for example, Afghanistan. As we try and understand things like Shia Islam, we are very closely in touch with Islamist scholars who know the history, with professors of religion who have studied comparative religions. And as we try and understand societies, we are in touch with anthropologists and others. So there is really no academic field that in one way or another that does not get involved in the analysis of what's going on in the world.

I'll give you an example of a paper that we issued 25 years ago, and it was a look ahead around the world at the 20 or so most likely places where there could be a war over water resources. We tracked food supplies around the world. We tracked the growth of AIDS. We found that a lot of governments, particularly in developing countries, would lie about the number of their citizens who had AIDS because they were afraid that it would deter investment and tourism, and so they would turn in false numbers to the World Health Organization, and one of the things we, as an intelligence agency, did was try and produce accurate reporting of how the disease was growing. So all of these different areas, there is a dynamic interaction between people in the government, and not just CIA, but the State Department, the Agency for International Development, and the Department of Defense, with the academic community. When I was at CIA, we would host up to 75 conferences a year in which we brought in academics to discuss specific subjects that we were dealing with, whether it was the Soviet economy or the Chinese economy or something like that. So I would say that it is a very dynamic relationship between even security agencies in the United States government and our academic community.

I'll tell you one thing we did for global warming. When Senator Gore, Al Gore, was still in the United States Senate, I was director of CIA, and he asked me to come see him at his office. And he asked me if we would be willing to consider giving access to our archive of satellite imagery to scientists to see if we could measure from that photography the pace of global warming, and particularly melting of the polar ice cap and the impact, particularly in the far northern hemisphere. He knew very well that we had taken the pictures of the same places in the Soviet Union for a generation, because that's where their missile bases were and their air fields and so on. And so we actually had a timeline of photography stretching over a 30-year period that would allow scientists to be able to examine what changes had taken place in those areas, and we worked out arrangements to get about 30 scientists secret clearance and opened up that entire archive for science to use. So I think that's an example of where we can also make a contribution.

QUESTION: I am Toki Kunieda from the Journalism Department. As you know, there are major difficulties over whether Japan should reform its Article 9 of its Japanese Constitution, stating that Japan should not have any army - not armed forces, but army - and concerning about what you have mentioned what Japan would expect from Japan in maintaining security in Asia. Among other things, it seems that you are expecting Japan to move forward to reform Article 9. But as you also might know, since World War II, Article 9 has been one of the major characteristics, or, let's say, an important identity of Japan. So would you tell us your opinion over Article 9 of Japanese Constitution? Thank you.

SECRETARY GATES: Well, I have no experience as a diplomat, but I know enough not to get involved in other people's business. I think that it would really be inappropriate for me to editorialize on what is clearly an internal Japanese political issue. I do believe that there has been some discussion here in Japan about whether without changing Article 9 there can be a broader interpretation of what Japan can do in terms of international participation and engagement in security issues. And I think that debate is ongoing. And a part of it was discussed by the Minister of Defense in our press conference last night. For example, at this point for Japan to participate in something like the fueling exercise, each activity requires separate legislation, and if I understood him correctly, what the Minister of Defense is thinking about is, should there be a broader general law passed that would cover a variety of peacekeeping activities or activities like the fueling, so that the Diet doesn't have to act on each individual instance as it comes along? That's a debate for the Japanese to have, and for the rest of us to stay out of.

Thank you all very much for your hospitality.