The differences between conventional and irregular warfare are becoming less important, Department of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told students and faculty at the Army Command and General Staff College last week.
“To some extent, much of the debate between low-end and high-end [warfare] misses the point,” he said, speaking at the Eisenhower Auditorium. “The black-and-white distinction between conventional war and irregular war is becoming less relevant in the real world.”
Gates said the U.S. military having overwhelming conventional military dominance over any potential adversary in the world is not enough, given the threats the nation faces. The secretary said having the ability to destroy other militaries is no guarantee the United States can achieve its strategic goals, a point driven home especially in Iraq.
“The future will be even more complex, where conflict most likely will range across a broad spectrum of operations and lethality–where even near-peer competitors will use irregular or asymmetric tactics, and nonstate actors may have weapons of mass destruction or sophisticated missiles,” Gates said.
Fighting the current wars is his highest priority, the secretary said, but close behind is the continuing care of those wounded and injured. Army leadership are championing the efforts to care for those suffering from post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, as well as comprehensive suicide-prevention efforts and doing everything possible to address and reduce the disturbing increase in suicide rates. However, efforts from senior leaders are not enough, Gates said.
“As military leaders, you must care for your subordinates and make sure they have the information, resources, and skills they need to be successful soldiers and members of society,” he said. “Strong unit-level leadership is needed not just to prevent soldiers from ending their lives, but to open the door for them to seek help.”
He urged the young officers to make this a visible and vocal priority in their organizations and said everyone needs to play their part to end the stigma of seeking help for mental-health issues.
“If someone is struggling with what they have seen in combat or adjusting to a home environment, it is your duty to give them the support they need,” Gates said.