As I previously posted, outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates is becoming increasingly candid in remarks as he approaches his retirement date at the end of the month. I’m not the only one, of course, who has noticed his refreshingly open air of probity – take Phillip Ewing of DoD Buzz:
Have you ever imagined quitting your job and telling your old cretin of a boss exactly what you think of him? Of course – it’s the American dream. And Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is living it right now, having gone to the doorstep of one of the world’s most ossified, stultifying bureaucracies – NATO – and delivered this message: Get your act together.Ewing has gathered together some observations from other sources to flesh out this view:
He was dismissive of some NATO partners as “nations apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets.”And this, about Libya:
“The mightiest military alliance in history is only eleven 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,” Mr. Gates said.
While the Libya war was unanimously endorsed by NATO nations, less than half are participating, and less than a third are carrying out strike missions.
“Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t,” Mr. Gates said. “The military capabilities simply aren’t there.”Or this about Afghanistan:
“Despite more than 2 million troops in uniform, not counting the U.S. military, NATO has struggled, at times desperately, to sustain a deployment of 25,000 to 45,000 troops, not just in boots on the ground, but in crucial support assets such as helicopters, transport aircraft, maintenance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and much more,” Gates said …
A NATO air operations center designed to handle more than 300 flights a day is struggling to launch about 150 a day against Libya, Gates said.Ewing titles his article, appropriately enough – “Gates to NATO: you guys suck”. This goes along with the observations I’ve heard from returning troops from Afghanistan – the NATO command there is known as ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), which includes Americans, but the ‘ISAF’ term among the US troops is used as a reference to the military of the other nations there. There are notable exceptions of course (e.g., Australia, Denmark), but the abbreviation breaks down as ‘I Suck At Fighting’ to the appropriately sardonic American troops. Examples? Well, there are such items as German troops bunkering down & refusing to patrol at night, or Dutch attack helicopters refusing to come to the aid of Australians troops under fire.
Global Security posts an extended DoD release on the same topic, though in a more measured tone:
Despite the demands of mission in Afghanistan -- NATO’s first “hot” ground war -- total European defense spending has declined by nearly 15 percent over the last 10 years, the secretary said. Furthermore, he added, rising personnel costs, combined with the demands of training and equipping for Afghan deployments, has consumed an ever-growing share of already meager defense budgets. . . .
Today, just five of the 28 NATO allies – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Greece and Albania – exceed the agreed-upon 2 percent of gross domestic product spending on defense. And that probably won’t change, Gates said. [One can do anything with statistics: what makes this list all the more distressing is that two of them - Greece & Albania - are there not because their defense budget is so high relative to their GDP, but because their GDP is so low.]
“The relevant challenge for us today, therefore, is no longer the total level of defense spending by allies, but how these limited – and dwindling – resources are allocated, and for what priorities,” he said. “For example, though some smaller NATO members have modestly sized and funded militaries that do not meet the 2 percent threshold, several of these allies have managed to punch well above their weight because of the way they use the resources they have.”
This is a nice way to focus attention on the fact that other, more capable nations don’t have the political will to follow through on the commitment not just to NATO but to their own defense. Further:
Try not to pull any punches, Bob. I'm curious to see if this has any effect, like "Tide - recede!"“As you all know, America’s serious fiscal situation is now putting pressure on our defense budget, and we are in a process of assessing where the U.S. can or cannot accept more risk as a result of reducing the size of our military,” the secretary said. “Tough choices lie ahead affecting every part of our government, and during such times, scrutiny inevitably falls on the cost of overseas commitments – from foreign assistance to military basing, support and guarantees.” . . .
For most of the Cold War, U.S. governments of both parties justified defense investments and costly forward bases that made up roughly 50 percent of all NATO military spending, the secretary said. “But some two decades after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the U.S. share of NATO defense spending has risen to more than 75 percent – at a time when politically painful budget and benefit cuts are being considered at home,” he said.