Washington: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday called for maintaining a powerful American military and warned against slashing its budget as a response to the country`s fiscal troubles.
In one of his last scheduled speeches before he steps down at the end of June, Gates told students at the University of Notre Dame that the country could not afford to shirk its global responsibilities or to scale back its armed forces.
"As we make the tough choices needed to put this country`s finances in order and to secure our future prosperity -- including the sacrifices that will be required of all Americans -- there will undoubtedly be calls to shrink America`s role in the world -- for us to sharply reduce our international commitments and the size and capabilities of our military," Gates said.
He said after each war there was a tendency for Americans to favour reducing the size of the armed forces, reflecting a view "that we will no longer have to confront foreign enemies with size, steel, and strength”.
"But make no mistake, the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power -- the size, strength, and global reach of the United States military," Gates said in the commencement speech.
A strong US military was needed not only for the war in Afghanistan but also "to protect trade routes and energy supplies, and to deter would-be adversaries from making the kind of miscalculations that so often lead to war," he said.
"All of these things happen mostly out of sight and out of mind to the average American, and thus are taken for granted.”
"But they all depend on a properly armed, trained and funded American military, which cannot be taken for granted," said Gates.
The Pentagon chief has curtailed some major weapons programs and sought to cut overhead costs in a bid to pre-empt possible dramatic defence cuts by lawmakers concerned about the federal deficit and debt.
The vast defence budget for 2010 came to USD 663 billion, by far the largest in the world.