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Gates Calls for 'New Institutions' to Address 21st Century Challenges

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the international community needs new capabilities and may need "new institutions" to deal with today's security challenges, such as Afghanistan, which he says require a mix of military and civilian efforts. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Washing.

Secretary Gates says the United States must be prepared to make "sacrifices," take "risks" and "lead" the international community to make the "institutional changes" needed to address problems in many countries that can, in his words, "be every bit as destabilizing as militaries on the march."

"We must be prepared to change old ways of doing business and create new institutions - both nationally and internationally - to deal with the long-term challenges we face abroad," said Robert Gates.

Secretary Gates said he was referring to such issues as ethnic tensions, economic turmoil, natural disasters and even disease. He said "vulnerable states" with such problems could descend into violence and become the safe havens where the next international terrorist attacks are planned, just as Afghanistan became the headquarters where al-Qaida leaders planned the September 11th attacks.

Gates says until recently western countries, their militaries and their international organizations did not have the capabilities needed to address such complex new challenges. He says militaries need to be better-funded and governments need to allow their forces to be used in combat situations against terrorists and insurgents. He says the troops also need to know how to train new armies, like Afghanistan's. And the secretary says governments need to improve their ability to promote economic development, reconstruction and improved governance, as well as to fight the drug trade that funds much of Afghanistan's insurgency.

Gates also called for changes within the U.S. government, to improve its ability to deliver non-military assistance abroad - a theme he has also stressed in the past.

The secretary was speaking to the U.S. Institute of Peace, a group funded by the Congress to prevent and resolve violent international conflicts and promote post-conflict stability and development.

He told the group "Afghanistan is the test" of whether the international community can integrate military and civilian efforts by governments and aid groups.

"To be successful, the entirety of the NATO alliance, the European Union, NGOs, and other groups - the full panoply of military and civilian elements - must better integrate and coordinate with one another and also with the Afghan government," he said. "These efforts today - however well-intentioned and even heroic - add up to less than the sum of the parts."

Secretary Gates said last week's NATO defense ministers' meeting was aimed at taking "concrete steps" to change that, but he says whether the effort will succeed "remains to be seen."

During a brief question-and-answer period, Secretary Gates also said coalition efforts in Afghanistan have ignored the country's traditional tribal structure, and must begin to work with local leaders to build peace and a new society. But he said the effort must be pursued carefully, in order to also build a strong central government and avoid the creation of new regional warlords.