The outgoing US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has delivered a remarkably frank warning to the European members of Nato that if they do not spend more on defence, the United States will be unwilling to maintain the transatlantic alliance. Gates declared that, “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 — nations apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets.”
Gates complained that the current state of Nato is unacceptable, with some nations—namely the United States—producing security and others consuming it. He was scathing about what the Libya mission had revealed about European defence capabilities, ‘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.”’
Britain’s defence cuts also came in for particular comment. With Gates noting that ‘even military stalwarts like the [United Kingdom] have been forced to ratchet back with major cuts to force structure.”
Europe would be well advised to heed Gates’ warning. The US defense budget will not survive the coming fiscal crunch in the States. In these circumstances, Washington will not be prepared to pick up so much of the tab for transatlantic security for much longer.