Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Washington, D.C.)

By Gates, Robert M. | U.S. Department of Defense Speeches, October 28, 2008 | Go to article overview

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Washington, D.C.)


Gates, Robert M., U.S. Department of Defense Speeches


As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Thank you, Jessica, for that very kind introduction. And my thanks also to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace which has, for almost a century, been dedicated to understanding--and preventing--war and its myriad causes.

I'd also like to thank you all for tearing yourselves away from our national election drama, for at least a little while. At one point, President Truman was traveling in England, and he commented on the strange behavior of Americans every four years. He said that "in election years we behave somewhat as primitive peoples do at the time of the full moon." The moon is certainly full.

It is an honor to speak at a forum with such a long and storied past. In fact, the idea for an endowment dedicated to international peace was first suggested to Andrew Carnegie almost exactly a century ago--right around the time that Carnegie entered the final phase of his life: dedicated to philanthropy and devoted to the cause of peace.

At the time, the nation was reeling from a meltdown on Wall Street--and, I should note, a severe crisis in the credit markets. The international arena wasn't much rosier. The early years of the century had seen the United States fight an insurgency in the Philippines, in which 4,200 Americans died. Russia and Japan had waged a brutal conflict, and the Boer War had recently ended. At the same time, Europe was arming itself to the teeth and forming a series of alliances whose implications were obvious to anyone who cared to look.

Against this backdrop, there were proposals for arbitration courts, for arms limitations, for dispute resolution--all familiar to us today but somewhat of a novelty then. The movement for international peace may have been in its infancy, but it was having an effect. More so than ever before, the civilized world was focused on efforts to reduce conflicts around the globe.

So was Carnegie, who brought to bear his considerable resources--including the establishment of this endowment. He had also agreed to fund a Peace Palace in Europe, in the Hague--he called it a Holy Temple of Peace--to house an international court of justice and a library, a function it still carries out today. At the dedication of the Peace Palace--in August of 1913--Carnegie said that "the only measure required today for the maintenance of world peace is an agreement between three or four of the leading civilized powers ... pledged to cooperate against disturbers of world peace." The day when men would cease to take up arms against other men, he said, was "certain to come, and come soon, as day follows night."

Less than a year later, an archduke fell to an assassin in Sarajevo, militarism collided with miscalculation, bombast met bluster, and the continent was plunged into darkness, essentially for the next 75 years. I mention all of this because one of the hard lessons of history is that it has a way of defying even the best of intentions--especially on matters of war and peace. Consider that the carnage of World War One came in the midst of mankind's first large-scale, concerted effort to bring about peace. And that this "War to End All Wars" was followed by another world war, employing even deadlier weapons--which, in turn, was followed by numerous conflicts throughout the last century and into this one. Simply put, we cannot predict the future. And so even as we strive to live up to our noblest goals, as Carnegie did, we must deal with the messy realities of the world in which we live.

One of those realities is the existence of nuclear weapons, the subject I want to discuss today.

I should start by noting that three presidents I worked for during the Cold War--Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush--genuinely wanted to eliminate all nuclear weapons and said so publicly. More recently, George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn echoed that sentiment in The Wall Street Journal. …

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