MUNICH, Germany Feb. 11, 2007 - Today's world is a different and much more complex world than 20 or 30 years ago, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here Feb. 11. "We all face common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia," he said.
The secretary's comments, in a speech to the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, were largely in response to a remarks yesterday by Russian President Vladimir Putin that were critical of U.S. foreign policy.
During his speech yesterday, Putin criticized the United States for forcing its will on the world, making world crises worse, and creating a "unipolar world" with "one single center of power, one single center of force and one single master."
Gates and Putin are both veterans of the Cold War, and both had careers in what Gates calls "the spy business." Gates opened his speech acknowledging his and Putin's shared Cold War intel background. "Old spies have a habit of blunt speaking," he said.
"However, I have been to re-education camp," he added, drawing laughter from the normally sedate security experts.
Gates "re-education" occurred during his four and half years as a university president and dealing with faculty. "And, as more than a few university presidents have learned in recent years, when it comes to faculty it is either ‘be nice' or ‘be gone,'" he said.
"As an old cold warrior, one of yesterday's speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time," Gates said. "Almost."
"One Cold War was quite enough," Gates said in announcing that he has accepted an invitation from Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to visit Russia.
The secretary went on to explain that he's been interested in European security for more than 40 years. "This was true while I was a Ph.D. candidate in Russian and Soviet history, through my career at CIA, as well as during service on the National Security Council under four different presidents," he said.
In the latter half of the Cold War, Gates said, he worked with colleagues from western European governments to help coordinate actions and responses. "I had a ringside seat for an extraordinary run of events from the 1975 Helsinki conference to the liberation of central and eastern Europe a decade and a half later," he said.
There were confrontations between the Cold War superpowers and stresses and strains among the allies as well, he recalled. But the Atlantic partnership was strong enough to surmount the difficulties and make the right choices at the right times, he added.
"The decision to deploy cruise and Pershing missiles to counter the Soviet Union's new weapons in the late 1970s, for example, was politically difficult for many allies," Gates said.
"But ultimately, the courage and leadership of statesmen and stateswomen on both sides of the Atlantic and the actual deployment of the missiles in the early 1980s helped set the stage for deep reductions in nuclear arms and the end of the Cold War."
Ideas -- as much as intercontinental ballistic missiles, tanks and warships -- defeated totalitarianism, Gates said.
"Our most effective weapon, then and now, has been Europe's and North America's shared belief in political and economic freedom, religious toleration, human rights, representative government, and the rule of law," he said.
These values, he said, united the allies and inspired others to defeat communism from within.
"A the end, the peoples of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union simply stood up, shrugged off their chains, and reclaimed a future based on these same ideas," he said. "I believe these shared values and shared interests endure, as do our shared responsibilities to come to their defense."