Europeans Concur: Not Pulling Our Weight In NATO

NATO's secretary general says since defense budgets are being cut as governments struggle with deficits, one answer is to have more bilateral cooperation among member states. The British are trying to patch up the holes created by their 8 percent military spending cuts by working more closely with the French.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Our colleague Philip Reeves in London has been asking of what Europeans make of what's happening to the North Atlantic Alliance.

PHILIP REEVES: Ask experts here if Europe is pulling its weight in NATO, and you'll likely get the same reply. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is quite right, they'll say. Europe's obviously not shouldering its share.

Professor CHRIS BELLAMY (Director of Security Studies Institute, Cranfield University): Mr. Gates was citing reality. The Americans are getting fed up with carrying the defense and security burden for the rest of the Western world.

REEVES: That's Professor Chris Bellamy, a London-based expert on defense and global security.

The U.S. has grumbled about this issue since the Cold War. Now though, there's a new factor. Europe's in the grips of an economic crisis. E.U. countries are spending $45 billion less this year on defense than they were two years ago. The big players, particularly Germany, are far more worried about bankrupt Greece and the fate of the Euro than the alliance. Yet, NATO is not in good shape.

Sarwar Kashmeri, an expert on U.S.-European relations, says the Libya operation is making that clear.

Mr. SARWAR KASHMERI (Senior Fellow, International Security Program, Atlantic Council): Because of the headlines, because of the coverage, a lot of people realize what the insiders knew, which was that the emperor not just doesn't have any clothes but doesn't have anything under the clothes.

REEVES: Kashmeri says the Libyan conflict has exposed all sorts of flaws, including a lack of technological coordination.

Mr. KASHMERI: And it was very perplexing for a lot of people to find out that when the countries of NATO, who are acting in Libya, ran out of laser-guided bombs, America had thousands of them in the aircraft carriers but they couldnt be used because they wouldn't fit on the French and British aircraft.

REEVES: Kashmeri doesn't agree that NATO's European members must invest more on defense. He says they already shell out $300 billion a year. It's a question of being far more efficient, and the only way to make that happen is for the U.S. to cut funding.

Mr. KASHMERI: Once the Europeans are faced with the prospect of not being able to defend themselves, versus having the luxury of all these inefficiencies, they will make the decision to defend themselves. I mean theyve done that over the centuries, so why shouldn't they do that now?

REEVES: NATO chiefs believe one answer is for the Europeans to pool resources. Like the British and the French, who last year these two signed a wide-ranging defense treaty that includes sharing an aircraft carrier.

Some believe NATO's problems are more fundamental. Constanze Stelzenmuller, of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, says the U.S. and Europeans are failing to acknowledge the alliance has a new role of collective risk management. As Libya illustrates, there'll inevitably be disagreements within the alliance over what constitutes a risk. NATO urgently needs to learn how to handle that, she says.

Dr. CONSTANZE STELZENMULLER (Senior Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund): It's not the end of the alliance if we have legitimate disagreements. It is the end of the alliance, or it will I think create considerable damage if we let those disagreements fester.

REEVES: Stelzenmuller says the Libya intervention has revealed deep flaws in Europe's decision-making processes.

Dr. STELZENMULLER: They're ponderous. They produce lowest common denominator results. And while I think it's normal that we have divisions, we seem to be almost unable to then come together and try to hammer them out.

REEVES: Are we perhaps witnessing an historical trend here: The slow natural death of NATO?

Chris Bellamy, again.

Prof. BELLAMY: My view of the future would be that the European Joint Defense should move to the European Union. And that the Americans should withdraw to some extent and NATO would naturally disappear.

REEVES: Look at NATO's structure, he says. You have the technologically advanced all-powerful Americans taking the lead, supported by several European heavyweights like Britain and France. There are some smaller players - Denmark and Norway, and so on - then some ill-equipped Eastern European minnows that get a lot out of NATO, but put nothing in.

Prof. BELLAMY: So we've got, you know, at least four levels within NATO. And if you have a structure like that, inevitably it's going to disintegrate over time.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

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