Landon Lecture at Kansas State University

By Gates, Robert M. | DISAM Journal, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Landon Lecture at Kansas State University


Gates, Robert M., DISAM Journal


[The following are excerpts of the speech delivered at the Kansas State University, 26 November 2007.]

Looking around the world today, optimism and idealism would not seem to have much of a place at the table. There is no shortage of anxiety about where our nation is headed and what its role will be in the 21st century.

I can remember clearly other times in my life when such dark sentiments were prevalent. In 1957, when I was at Wichita High School East, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, and Americans feared being left behind in the space race and, even more worrisome, the missile race.

In 1968, the first full year I lived in Washington, was the same year as the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, where American troop levels and casualties were at their height. Across the nation, protests and violence over Vietnam engulfed America's cities and campuses. On my second day of work as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. And then came the 1970s, when it seemed that everything that could go wrong for America did.

Yet, through it all, there was another story line, one not then apparent. During those same years, the elements were in place and forces were at work that would eventually lead to victory in the Cold War; a victory achieved not by any one party or any single president, but by a series of decisions, choices, and institutions that bridged decades, generations, and administrations.

* The first brave stand taken by Harry Truman with the doctrine of containment

* The Helsinki Accords under Gerald Ford

* The elevation of human rights under Jimmy Carter

* The muscular words and deeds of Ronald Reagan

* The masterful endgame diplomacy of George H. W. Bush

All contributed to bring an Evil Empire crashing down not with a bang but with a whimper. And virtually without a shot being fired.

In this great effort, institutions, as much as people and policies, played a key role. Many of those key organizations were created sixty years ago this year with the National Security Act of 1947--a single act of legislation which established the CIA, the National Security Council (NSC), the United States Air Force, and what is now known as the Department of Defense (DoD). I mention all this because that legislation and those instruments of national power were designed at the dawn of a new era in international relations for the United States--an era dominated by the Cold War.

The end of the Cold War, and the attacks of September 11, 2001, marked the dawn of another new era in international relations an era whose challenges may be unprecedented in complexity and scope.

In important respects, the great struggles of the 20th century, World War I, World War II and the Cold War, covered over conflicts that had boiled seethed, provoked war and instability for centuries before 1914: ethnic strife, religious wars, independence movements, and, especially in the last quarter of the 19th century, terrorism. The First World War was, itself, sparked by a terrorist assassination motivated by an ethnic group seeking independence.

These old hatreds and conflicts were buried alive during and after the Great War. But, like monsters in science fiction, they have returned from the grave to threaten peace and stability around the world. Think of the slaughter in the Balkans as Yugoslavia broke up in the 1990s. Even now, we worry about the implications of Kosovo's independence in the next few weeks for Europe, Serbia, and Russia. That cast of characters sounds disturbingly familiar even at a century's remove.

The long years of religious warfare in Europe between Protestant and Catholic Christians find eerie contemporary echoes in the growing Sunni versus Shia contest for Islamic hearts and minds in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and Southwest Asia. We also have forgotten that between Abraham Lincoln and John F.

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