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Gates Criticism: Discord At NATO

  • June 15th, 2011
  • Posted by EUEditor

nato-flags.jpgNot much protestation followed the weekend criticism of NATO partners by the United States Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, at Brussels.

Mr Gates spoke on Friday (10.6.11) at the  Defence Ministers’ meetings which reviewed current interventions by the alliance in Libya and Afghanistan; see EUAustralia Online, “NATO: Gaddafi looks close to defeat”, 12.6.11.

He criticised European contributors, pointing out that apart from the United States (contributor of three-quarters of NATO’s joint military outlay), only four member countries (France, the United Kingdom , Greece and Albania ) honoured an agreement to spend over 2% of Gross Domestic Product on defence.

As a result NATO faced “the very real possibility of collective military irrelevance”, he said.

Australia’s Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, was at the Brussels gathering most particularly because of the national commitment in Afghanistan, under a NATO command structure.

He declined  comment on the speech, saying the debate over the relative commitments of alliance member states was not Australia’s concern.

A New York Times commentary said: “The Europeans are used to being berated by Washington. The United States did that even during the Cold War, when the Continent was divided between NATO troops defending Western Europe and Warsaw Pact troops standing at the ready in Eastern Europe …”

It quoted Markus Kaim, from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs at Berlin, that “the U.S. is a global power, while Europe thinks regionally and believes it is surrounded by friends.”

Said The Guardian: “Gates has articulated the existential questions that have been hanging over NATO since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 when its primary purpose evaporated: what is NATO for and can it actually deliver?”

Public responses in Europe, as measured by regular polling are distinctly cool towards military expeditions, exerting pressure at this time to retire national contingents in Afghanistan; and governments themselves are sensitive, as in Libya, where all members have voted for air and sea intervention only – no becoming embroiled in another Middle Eastern conflict with troops on the ground.

Gone then are those days when things were simpler; when, as the joke went, the purpose of the alliance was all-agreed:to keep “the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down.”


Judy Dempsey, “Letter from Europe: Beginning of the End for NATO?”, New York Times, NY, 13.6.11., (15.6.11).

The Guardian, Manchester, “Does NATO have a purpose any longer?”, 12.6.11., (15.6.11).

Wall Street Journal, NY, “Transcript of Defence Secretary Gates’s Speech on NATO’s Future”, 10.6.11., (15.6.11).