Gates rebukes Nato allies over low defence spending


AMERICA’S OUTGOING defence secretary has warned his European allies that they face “the very real possibility of collective military irrelevance”, as a fiscally stressed superpower is no longer willing to subsidise the cost of Nato operations in Libya and elsewhere.

“The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country,” Mr Gates told a gathering of European dignitaries yesterday. “Yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the US, once more, to make up the difference.”

In his address, Mr Gates noted that Washington had frequently requested, “with exasperation”, that European Nato members meet the alliance’s benchmarks for defence spending, and described the situation in the Libyan campaign as “unacceptable”.

Last month, the Pentagon confirmed it had rushed precision-guided bombs and other munitions to its overstretched allies in the Libyan theatre.

“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 defence,” Mr Gates said.

In the final months of his 4½-year tenure, Mr Gates has shaken up the American foreign policy establishment with a series of stinging policy speeches, warning that the US military is likely to become smaller and will be less able to deal with multiple threats.

In one address, he said any successor who advocated a land war in Asia or the Middle East should “have his head examined”.

But yesterday’s speech, delivered after a two-day meeting of Nato defence ministers, was the only one directed at a foreign audience. Mr Gates said Nato had degenerated into a “two-tiered” alliance, with the US and a small group of European allies doing the difficult jobs, while others benefited from Nato protection without bearing commensurate costs or risks. While acknowledging he was predicting a “dismal” future for Nato, Mr Gates insisted European governments could still change course. “It will take leadership from political leaders and policymakers on this continent. It cannot be coaxed, demanded or imposed from across the Atlantic.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011