Defense Secretary Robert Gates isn’t pulling any punches on this way out the door.
In his final policy speech as head of the Pentagon, Gates blasted European leaders for failing to commit the necessary resources to ongoing NATO-led campaigns in Afghanistan and Libya, and said that because of that the alliance faces a “dim, if not dismal” future.
“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,” Gates told a European think tank on the final day of an n 11-day overseas trip, according to the Associated Press.
Gates, who will step down from his post at the end of this month, has criticized European allies in the past for leaving too much of the heavy lifting to U.S. forces. But his latest round of tough talk stood out because it was unusually harsh, even by his standards.
“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,” he said.
Gates offered praise for a small handful of allies such as Norway and Denmark for making disproportionately large sacrifices in Libya, but the larger picture he painted was one of a Europe unable to live up to its military obligations.
On Afghanistan, Gates had this to say:
“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, but in crucial support assets such as helicopters, transport aircraft, maintenance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and much more,” he said.
And on Libya:
“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,” he said.
Still, Gates managed to strike at least a slightly optimistic note, telling Europe leaders that NATO could still flourish if they were willing to recommit to its missions.
“What I’ve sketched out is the real possibility for a dim, if not dismal future for the trans-Atlantic alliance,” Gates said. “Such a future is possible, but not inevitable. The good news is that the members of NATO—individually and collectively—have it well within their means to halt and reverse these trends and instead produce a very different future.”