SecDef Gates: Old Europe's Lack of Participation in America's Global Policework Is "Unacceptable"


Outgoing United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates just gave NATO a tongue-lashing in his farewell address to the transatlantic alliance. The speech is a ringing example of the bipartisan lack of self-awareness when it comes to the consequences (especially in allied countries) of having one state dominate the accumulation and deployment of hard power around the globe. Excerpt from the Armed Forces Press Service write-up:

"In the past, I've worried openly about NATO turning into a two-tiered alliance between members who specialize in 'soft' humanitarian, development, peacekeeping and talking tasks and those conducting the 'hard' combat missions—between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership, be they security guarantees or headquarters billets, but don't want to share the risks and the costs," the secretary said.

"This is no longer a hypothetical worry," he added. "We are there today. And it is unacceptable."

In Afghanistan, "NATO has struggled, at times desperately, to sustain a deployment of 25,000 to 45,000 troops," Gates said. As for our latest North African adventure, "while every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, 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."

"I am the latest in a string of U.S. defense secretaries who have urged allies privately and publicly, often with exasperation, to meet agreed-upon NATO benchmarks for defense spending," Gates said. "However, fiscal, political and demographic realities make this unlikely to happen any time soon, as even military stalwarts like the [United Kingdom] have been forced to ratchet back with major cuts to force structure."

Today, just five of the 28 NATO allies – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Greece and Albania – exceed the agreed-upon 2 percent of gross domestic product spending on defense. And that probably won't change, Gates said.

Worst of all, there might come a day in some theoretical universe when the American public might finally demand and even effect a slowdown in the eternal growth of military spending:

"As you all know, America's serious fiscal situation is now putting pressure on our defense budget, and we are in a process of assessing where the U.S. can or cannot accept more risk as a result of reducing the size of our military," the secretary said. "Tough choices lie ahead affecting every part of our government, and during such times, scrutiny inevitably falls on the cost of overseas commitments – from foreign assistance to military basing, support and guarantees."

Gates said he and Obama believe it would be a grave mistake for the United States to withdraw from its global responsibilities, noting that he discussed expanding U.S. engagements in Asia last week at a regional security conference in Singapore. […]

"The blunt reality," he continued, "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—nations apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets."

It never ceases to amaze that America's ruling class cannot wrap their heads around one obvious fact: When you assume an ever-greater share of responsibility for the world's affairs, other countries will become increasingly irresponsible (or non-responsible, if you prefer). You want to make allies a bit more concerned with their own defense, let alone with foreign military adventures? Remove your troops and bases from their soil, and let them know that you are no longer in the business of being a first-responder in the guarantee of their security. Meanwhile, it might be worth beginning to consider whether intervening in far-flung civil wars really qualifies as "defense."