News / Europe

Gates Delivers Blunt Message to NATO Partners

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates speaks during a media conference after a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, June 9, 2011
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates speaks during a media conference after a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, June 9, 2011

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has warned the 28 members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that the alliance could become irrelevant in a quickly changing world.  

This was Gates’ final major speech before he retires June 30, and it was his strongest criticism of the NATO alliance during his tenure as secretary of defense.

In Afghanistan, Gates said the international force has exposed shortcomings in NATO’s military capabilities and in political will.  As for the military operation in Libya, Gates said while every alliance member voted for the mission, less than half have participated and fewer than a third have been willing to take part in the strike mission.

"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," said Gates.

Secretary Gates also criticized nations that - in his words - “are apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets.”

"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," he said.

Sean Kay, a NATO expert at Ohio Wesleyan University, says one problem is that the alliance is stretched out too thinly.

"There’s been an assumption since the end of the Cold War that NATO had to ‘go out of area or out of business’ - was the famous quote about NATO," said Kay. "And that created a logic train that the mission had to be additive - so we had NATO enlargement, we had new out-of-area operations and so forth.  So you have expanding missions but declining resources.  And that creates a massive strategic disconnect between goals and capabilities.  And so absent those capabilities, the goals become less credible."

Or, as Secretary Gates put it - NATO must avoid becoming irrelevant.

"What I’ve sketched out is the real possibility for a dim, if not dismal, future for the transatlantic alliance," said Gates.

But sounding an optimistic note, Gates said NATO members have the means to halt the negative trends.

Kay says another problem is that European governments - like the United States - are facing drastic budget cuts.

"The Europeans are not going to coalesce and spend money on defense unless it is in their interest to," he said. "Right now, it’s in their maximum interest to avoid it.  And we don’t help ourselves, I don’t think, when we just say well, they must do more - because it is in their interest to do as little as possible, because they are countries and they realize so long as they don’t do it, America will do it for them."

Kay says the Europeans must be given an incentive to change that view and be stronger partners in the alliance.

"The only way to accomplish that is to get NATO back to a very founding objective by actually reigning in and limiting its missions to the classic function of collective defense and insisting that over the next three to five years, we will be handing over lead responsibility for European security to the European Union," said Kay. "And then it’s up to them to figure out how they are going to invest in their national security interests in cooperation with the United States."

Experts say the successor to Robert Gates as U.S. defense secretary will have to address the serious challenges facing NATO.  

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs