By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2010 – The U.S.-Turkey alliance is built on fundamental common interests, and the defense partnership between the two nations is as close as it has ever been, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.
Gates was the keynote speaker at the American Turkish Council Convention at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The United States and Turkey are allies that have fought together in Korea, Kosovo and Kabul, and remain allies even when they disagree, he said.
"Even as our views and approaches on some issues may differ, we are allies, we share fundamental interests in the region, and our goals remain the same: A respect for sovereignty and rule of law; economic growth and development; and enduring stability and security," Gates said.
Turkey is a stalwart NATO ally and has 1,700 troops in Afghanistan. Gates thanked Turkey for leading the International Security Assistance Force in the past and for extending its command of the Kabul Regional Command for another year. Gates also complimented Turkey for its engagement with Iraq. He said Turkish leaders regularly work with Iraqis "to reinforce that nation's emerging democracy, encouraging national reconciliation initiatives and working to rebuild defense and security ties with the Iraqi Security Forces."
The secretary reaffirmed the U.S. pledge to confront the PKK - a Kurdish terrorist group that has targeted Turkey, as well as its officials and military.
"In response to the rise in PKK terrorist attacks against Turkish military forces and civilians over the past year, the U.S. has increased its efforts to crack down on PKK criminal enterprises, enhanced its intelligence support, and reached out to our European allies to encourage them to freeze PKK assets in Europe," he said.
Gates also touched upon the need for NATO reform, and urged all NATO nations to support the new strategic concept that heads of state will discuss and vote on at next month's Lisbon Summit in Portugal.
The threats have changed over the years, Gates said, and NATO must change too. "Reflecting this strategic reality, NATO is now pursuing new missions far from its original geographic boundaries - whether in the hills of the Hindu Kush or off the coast of Somalia," the secretary said.
NATO is changing operationally, Gates said. However, like the Defense Department, he added, the alliance requires structural reform.
"The alliance has long had too many committees, too many headquarters and too much bureaucracy overseeing too few deployable and properly resourced military capabilities," he said. "To some degree, the institutional reforms being pursued at NATO reflect many of the changes underway in our own Department of Defense - all for the purpose of reducing overhead and shifting more resources to our fighting forces."
Gates also wants the NATO allies to agree to take up the phased adaptive approach to missile defense. Rogue states, such as Iran, can launch missiles against NATO allies, he said.
"Two-and-a-half years ago in Bucharest, NATO's heads of state and government recognized the need for an alliance-wide response to the threat of ballistic missiles in the hands of those who might seek to intimidate or harm NATO," he said. "We resolved then to develop options that could extend coverage to all European allied territory and populations, a resolution echoed at subsequent high-level meetings."
The phased adaptive approach, Gates said, offers a territorial missile defense system based on proven technologies that can be adapted to meet future dangers and protect a steadily increasing swath of NATO territory.
"As the threat from ballistic missiles grows, so will the scope and effectiveness of NATO's defenses against them," he said. "Our object is the fullest-possible coverage of NATO allies and, over time, to provide coverage for all of NATO."
The first phase becomes operational next year, Gates said, with sea-based SM-3 interceptor missiles deployed to areas where the threat is greatest. The second phase, due in 2015, involves placing upgraded, ground-based SM-3s in Romania as well as at sea.
"Phases three and four will deploy even more advanced interceptors, including a second land-based interceptor site in Poland," he said. "Overall, this approach provides the alliance with a great deal of flexibility to protect against the range of threats posed by ballistic missiles, and to adapt as new threats develop and old ones recede."
Gates said he wants to keep the U.S.-Turkish relationship on track.
"The United States and Turkey have wisely remembered our friendship during times of agreement and disagreement, and it is incumbent for us to continue to do so," he said. "There is too much at stake for us not to do so - for our prosperity, for our security, and for the credibility of our alliance."