Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has spent his final weeks before retirement making a number of candid remarks about US foreign policy, but on Friday he offered one of his bluntest criticisms yet, this time directed at the NATO alliance.
Mr. Gates slammed NATO for its limited commitment to Afghanistan and their inability to conduct operations in Libya without substantial US support. Without serious changes, he warned that NATO faced “a dim if not dismal future” and that Americans may begin to question the value of maintaining the relationship.
“The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the US 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,” said Mr. Gates in an article by the Associated Press.
The remarks, delivered at the Bibliothèque Solvay in Brussels, came as Gate’s final policy speech while in office. Having served under eight US presidents and headed the Pentagon under the administrations of both George Bush and Barack Obama, Politico reports that the speech likely reflects Gates’s desire to leave a legacy as someone who was strong on defense despite his willingness to work closely with leaders on both sides of the political spectrum.
After making his final visit to Afghanistan as secretary of defense last weekend, Gates came down hard NATO allies who he said were not fulfilling their commitments there. The New York Times reported he complained that “national ‘caveats’ that tied the hands of allied commanders in sometimes infuriating ways” damaged the mission there. The US currently provides nearly two-thirds of all troops for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
His harshest remarks, however, came when he discussed NATO operations in Libya, where he said the failings of the alliance had been “laid bare.” He emphasized that just 11 weeks into the air war, non-American NATO forces are running out of munitions, requiring the US to make up the difference.
Within Europe, the Los Angeles Times reports that European officials have offered limited reactions to the remarks, however, “several officials privately said he gave inadequate credit to the role alliance members are playing in the war in Afghanistan. Nor, one European official said, was it fair to blame other NATO members for the difficulties in Libya, since the United States has taken a support role in the conflict.”
While the US has urged its allies not to cut military spending so they can be better equipped to handle their own security needs, President Obama has planned to cut $400 billion for the US defense budget over the next 12 years to reduce the deficit. Gates’s remarks come as perhaps the strongest warning the US has ever issued that it may withdraw from the NATO treaty, reports Bloomberg.