Gates Rebukes NATO Members On Libya Mission
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
The outgoing secretary of defense had some tough love today for NATO. In a speech in Brussels, Robert Gates warned of, as he said, a dim if not dismal future for the alliance. Gates was critical of NATO's funding and its fighting abilities, and he cautioned NATO not to take U.S. support for granted, as we hear now from NPR's Mike Shuster.
MIKE SHUSTER: Defense Secretary Gates's words to NATO could not have been more blunt. NATO risks collective military irrelevance, he said, unless most of the European allies boost their military spending and take on more of the burden of combat.
At the moment, NATO is engaged in two combat missions in Afghanistan and Libya, and in Gates's view, these missions have exposed the alliance's serious shortcomings. In Afghanistan, he noted NATO is struggling to field a relatively small force of 25,000 to 45,000 troops there despite having a collective military force of two million. Gates had even sharper words of criticism for NATO's performance in Libya.
Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): 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.
SHUSTER: The United States pays 75 percent of NATO's budget. Gates warned that the appetite for continuing that support is diminishing in the U.S. in both the Congress and among the wider American public. U.S. support for NATO was nearly unquestioned during the Cold War, but since the Berlin Wall came down, the alliance has expanded from 16 to 28 members, and its missions have spread far beyond Europe's borders; so too have budget deficits exploded in the U.S. and in Europe posing a serious threat to funding NATO, Gates said.
Sec. GATES: Future U.S. political leaders - those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me - may not consider the return on America's investment in NATO worth the cost.
SHUSTER: Only five of NATO's 28 members spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense as NATO membership obliges them to do. The drift of the past 20 years cannot continue, Gates said. The blunt reality is that there is dwindling patience in the U.S. to expend precious funds on behalf of nations apparently unwilling to be serious partners in their own defense.
Sec. GATES: What I've sketched out is the real possibility for a dim, if not dismal, future for the trans-Atlantic alliance.
SHUSTER: Gates's jeremiad was welcomed by some in Europe, including former NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Skeffer.
Mr. JAAP DE HOOP SKEFFER (Former Secretary General, NATO): This situation, this imbalance in the burden sharing is, in my opinion, not sustainable in a world where projecting stability is the order of the day.
SHUSTER: Gates did say that the dim, if not dismal, future that he fears is not inevitable. It is well within the alliance's means to produce a very different future, he noted, if the political will is there.
Mike Shuster, NPR News.
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