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NATO's relevance at risk if Europeans don't spend more
on military budgets
If NATO's European members don't increase their military
spending and their combat capabilities, then the relevance
and the usefulness of the military alliance is at risk.
Speaking in Brussels to the think tank Security and
Defence Agenda (SDA), U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert
M. Gates did not mince his words when speaking about America's
European partners. "In the past, I've worried openly
about NATO turning into a two-tiered alliance between members
who specialize in
development, peacekeeping and talking tasks and those conducting
the 'hard' combat missions," Gates said, stating
is no longer a hypothetical worry, (...) We are
there today. And it is unacceptable."
Gates particularly noticed the lack of sustainability for ongoing
operations in Afghanistan and Libya, which forces the U.S.
to fill the gaps. After 11 weeks of military operations against
Libya, "many allies are beginning to run short of munitions,
up the difference,"
Though he acknowledged that the war in Iraq has seriously burdened
budgets needed to continue the mission
in Afghanistan, he insisted on the fact that Europeans' contribution
to combat efforts in Afghanistan must not halt. He stressed that
President Barack Obama's plan of transition and withdrawal of
troops by 2014 doesn't mean there can be any rush to the
exits: "NATO cannot afford some troop-contributing nations
to pull out their forces on their own timeline in a way that
mission and increases risks to other allies," Gates warned.
"Total European defense spending has declined by nearly 15
percent over the last 10 years," the Secretary said. As
a result, Europeans now contribute 25% of the Alliance's military
(300 billion U.S. dollars annually) and seem
to take pleasure in the American leadership on defense
and collective security issues. Gates reminded that
while every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, grounding
Gadhafi's air force and degrading his regime's ability
to kill his own people, less than half have participated, and
fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike
mission. "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. The military capabilities
simply aren't there," he noticed.
A number of commentators and media found that Gates' calling
for more European defense spending contradicts with decades-long
emergence of an independent
European defense of which France was the most supportive in the
1990s. "Washington never really supported European efforts to
build a coherent and robust military and now they complain that
it doesn't exist," a European diplomatic source told ISRIA,
in comments related to the speech.
"Although it is true that Europeans must do more when it comes
and security, the U.S. should clarify its stance before giving
lessons," the source added. "The context has changed and America
wants to see Europe play a greater role in world security," an
American official told ISRIA. "Today's context
has not much in common with the 1990s," the official added.
Popular in his country, Gates may be now a little less popular
with European political circles, although his speech to the Security
and Defence Agenda (SDA) will likely be favorably
by European soldiers who wish to carry out their present and
future missions in best conditions. After serving as Secretary
of Defense under republican George W. Bush and democrat Barack
Robert M. Gates is
to leave his post to Leon Panetta, the incumbent CIA director
former White House Chief of Staff under Bill Clinton.
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