President Barack Obama says the United States will continue to maintain the strongest military in the world and that it will focus more on unconventional threats. But the president also told an audience at the National Defense University in Washington that the country needs to improve its ability to deliver civilian aid and advice abroad in order to prevent wars.
Speaking to a largely military gathering as he dedicated a new building at the university, President Obama made this pledge.
"Now make no mistake, this nation will maintain our military dominance," he said. "We will have the strongest armed forces in the history of the world. And we will do whatever it takes to sustain our technological advantage and to invest in the capabilities that we need to protect our interests, and to defeat and deter any conventional enemy."
But the president also said the U.S. military must be prepared for unconventional enemies - insurgents like the ones American troops are fighting today in Iraq and Afghanistan. To that end, Mr. Obama said he is continuing the Bush administration's program to increase the size of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, and to change the way troops are trained.
"We must understand different languages and different cultures," he said. "We must study determined adversaries and developing tactics. That's the education that is done within the walls of this university. And that is the work that must be done to keep our nation safe."
President Obama said today's troops face a "complex mission," having to fight insurgents and win the support of civilians in the same area at the same time.
He also said modern security requires more robust diplomacy, including the ability to deploy civilians to help friendly governments improve their performance, support the rule of law, promote economic development and do other things to "attack the causes of war around the world."
He noted that government civilians study alongside military officers at the National Defense University, and that foreign military officers are there, too. He said that emphasizes the point that the United States cannot address the world's security challenges alone.
"There is no permanent American solution to the security challenges that we face within any foreign nation, nor can the world meet the tests of our time without strong American leadership," he said. "And that's why my administration is committed to comprehensive engagement with the world, including strengthened partnerships with the foreign militaries and security forces that can combat our common enemies."
President Obama's strong statement about the need to be prepared for unconventional war echoes the views of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and other officials and experts. And it could have a significant impact on the president's budget, which is now being worked on.
There has been considerable speculation that the secretary and the president might decide to reduce, postpone or cancel some expensive military programs aimed mainly at conventional threats, such as the Air Force's new fighter jet. Those decisions are expected in the next few weeks.