Gates on the Dimming Future of NATO
Out-going Defense Secretary Gates has been delivering a series of farewell speeches that are noteworthy for their bluntness. His latest is perhaps the bluntest yet – on the future of the NATO alliance, which he sees as grim. The New York Times reports here; the Wall Street Journal has an editorial comment here. At one level, the problem is simply money and resources, and the ever growing disparity between what the US provides and what the rest don’t. From the Times:
Perhaps most significantly, Mr. Gates issued a dire warning that the United States, the traditional leader and bankroller of the alliance, is exhausted by a decade of war and and its own mounting budget deficits, and simply may not see NATO as worth supporting any longer.
“The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress – and in the American body politic writ large – to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense,” Mr. Gates said.
Mr. Gates complained of what he called a “two-tiered” membership structure, “between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership but don’t want to share the risks and the costs.” He added that some NATO partners are “apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets.”
The broader issue is that nations commit major resources on the basis of their interests, and the non-US NATO countries do not see the threat. As Gates notes, the disparities are on display in the Libya war:
The defense secretary was even harsher in his critique of NATO’s command of the Libya operation. After an initial bombing campaign run by the Americans, the alliance took over the air war and Mr. Gates warned that NATO may not be up to the task.
“The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country – yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference,” Mr. Gates said.
While the Libya war was unanimously endorsed by NATO nations, less than half are participating, and less than a third are carrying out strike missions.
“Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t,” Mr. Gates said. “The military capabilities simply aren’t there.”
The Libya operation has proven the alliance is desperately short of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, as well as aerial refueling planes – all are crucial to modern combat. The United States still is supplying the largest share of all of those to the NATO effort, even thought it pulled most of its strike aircraft out of the operation.