Robert Gates versus Albert Einstein

The soldier-philosopher-flautist Frederick the Great, King of Prussia (1712–1786), is remembered, among others things, for saying: “Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments.” (He must have regarded the human voice as a musical instrument like the flute.)

In a speech at the National Defence University in Washington on February 23, US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates deplored Europe’s present reluctance to use military force. He might have quoted Frederick’s axiom with great effect to support his position.

This is what he said: “The demilitarization of Europe, where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it, is an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st century.”

Pacifism has not always been a cause advocated by those who, according to Robert Gates, were opposed to lasting peace. Albert Einstein, for example, said, “I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.”

That kind of thinking, Robert Gates would say, is at the root of our troubles today. Since Einstein’s time, he would no doubt add, the situation has changed fundamentally.

Alliance members, Robert Gates noted, were far from reaching their spending commitments, with only 5 of 28 having reached the established target: 2 percent of gross domestic product for defense. By comparison, the United States spends more than 4 percent of its G.D.P. on its military.

Since the deterioration of the NATO position in Afghanistan and the implementation of the new American strategy, the polls show that the war has grown increasingly unpopular in nearly every European country. NATO’s problems – greatly magnified by the expansion of its mandate beyond European borders, following 9/11 – called for “serious, far-reaching and immediate reforms,” Mr. Gates said.

The secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, last month turned to an unlikely source – Russia – to request helicopters for use in Afghanistan, arguing that this would help reduce the terrorism threat and drug trade on a border of the former Soviet Union.

Mr. Rasmussen, speaking at the same meeting as Mr. Gates, said that NATO’s members needed to coordinate their weapons purchases better. The European Union and NATO should collaborate on developing capabilities like heavy-lift helicopters, he said, and avoid “spending double money.”

As to the troops NATO is sending to Afghanistan to assist the Americans – 50,000 this year, up from 30,000 last year – one wonders whether another observation by Frederick the Great might apply to them:

“If my soldiers were beginning to think, no one would remain in the ranks.”

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2 responses to “Robert Gates versus Albert Einstein

  1. Robert Koch

    King Frederick died in 1786 !! The last quotation from King Frederick the Great I do not recall. But it makes sense. RK

  2. You are right. I was misled. He died in 1786.

    I apologize to you and to my entire clientèle. The error has been corrected.