Page last updated at 03:20 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Gates warns on pre-emptive strike

Robert Gates, 3 March
Robert Gates has been US defence secretary since 2006

US defence secretary Robert Gates has said any future president is likely to be more cautious about launching a pre-emptive strike against another nation.

Mr Gates told US TV channel PBS the US had learned from its failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or to anticipate the counter-insurgency.

Stricter criteria would need to be met on the threat faced and intelligence used before any future strike, he said.

The US invaded Iraq in 2003 on the basis it had or was developing WMD.

No evidence of such weapons has ever been found.

Mr Gates was appointed defence secretary by President George W Bush in 2006, several years after the invasion of Iraq, and has stayed on in the role under the Obama administration.

The concept of a pre-emptive attack is part of what is known as the Bush doctrine.

Speaking to PBS, Mr Gates said: "The lessons learned with the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction and some of the other things that happened will make any future president very, very cautious about launching that kind of conflict or relying on intelligence."

He said any future president would "ask a lot of very hard questions and I think that hurdle is much higher today than it was six or seven years ago".

He added: "I think that the barrier, first of all, will be 'are we going to be attacked here at home?'"

Mr Gates, a former head of the CIA, said the "quality of the intelligence" was another factor to be considered before deciding on a pre-emptive strike.

He said the US's failure to anticipate that the invasion - foreseen as a short conflict - could lead to a protracted counter-insurgency operation "was one of the biggest mistakes that was made".

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