by Staff Writers
Washington (UPI) Jun 14, 2011
NATO's growing post-Cold War impotence has been the centerpiece of blunt talk from outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and punctuated by Norway and Denmark.
Gates, in remarks to a European think tank, blasted the United States' European allies for failure to adequately fund their military capabilities and for lack of political will, which are propelling the 28-member alliance to "collective military irrelevance."
Just five member states -- the United States, Britain, France, Greece and Albania -- meet the agreed-upon alliance goal of national defense spending equaling 2 percent of gross domestic product. That leaves the United States to shoulder an increasingly heavier burden, he said.
"Despite more than 2 million troops in uniform, not counting the U.S. military, NATO has struggled, at times desperately, to sustain a deployment of 25,000 to 45,000 troops, not just in boots on the ground (in places like Iraq and Afghanistan), but in crucial support assets such as helicopters, transport aircraft, maintenance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and much more," Gates said in Brussels.
"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.
"Nations apparently (are) willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets," he said.
The result of under spending came just hours before Gates made his comments:
-- Norway announced it is scaling back its contribution of aircraft to NATO's bombing campaign against Libya from six fighter planes to four because of costs. The remaining aircraft would be withdrawn from the conflict by August.
-- Denmark, flying six F-16s, said it was running out of bombs and had requested replenishment from the Netherlands.
Gates noted that "while every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, less than half have participated at all, 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 said.
Operation Unified Protector, the NATO name for action against Libya, was started with the United States in the lead but command was transitioned to NATO.
Since April aircraft from European countries have conducted the airstrikes on Libyan targets, ostensibly to protect rebel forces and civilians from massacre by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi. U.S. forces are now in a support role.
But the extent of that support highlights the shortcomings of the European allies. Figures quoted by the Financial Times indicate that 70 percent of reconnaissance missions, more than 75 percent of refueling flights were being conducted by U.S. aircraft.
Gate's criticism on inadequate defense spending by European allies wasn't new. It has been raised time and time again by U.S. defense secretaries since the collapse of the Berlin wall and the demise of the Soviet Union.
Western Europe, with the removal of the Soviet threat, naturally sought a peace dividend and decreasing their military spending was it.
The problem is, NATO has become involved in military actions beyond its traditional borders. Iraq and Afghanistan at the behest of the United States, for example, and now in Libya to support the United Nations in protecting civilians.
That takes military wherewithal and that means adequate defense spending, even in times of a general economic downturn.
It also takes the political will to engage in military operations when self-preservation isn't immediately apparent as it was during the Cold War.
"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," Gates said.
"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.
"This is no longer a hypothetical worry. We are there today. And it is unacceptable."
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Commentary: Half pregnant strategy
Washington (UPI) Jun 13, 2011
Is NATO a paper tiger? With a "dim, if not dismal future," as outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates put it in a valedictory address before his NATO opposite numbers, NATO is "facing the very real possibility of collective military irrelevance." The United States and some of its NATO partners are involved in two wars - Afghanistan and Libya. In Afghanistan, most NATO allie ... read more
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