Gates Calls European Mood a Danger to Peace

(Gold9472: Wanting peace is bad for peace.)

Published: February 23, 2010

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has long called European contributions to NATO inadequate, said Tuesday that public and political opposition to the military had grown so great in Europe that it was directly affecting operations in Afghanistan and impeding the alliance’s broader security goals.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke at the National Defense University at in Washington on Tuesday.

Notes from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other areas of conflict in the post-9/11 era. Go to the Blog »

Recent developments on the war in Afghanistan with background, analysis, timelines and earlier events from and Google.

“The demilitarization of Europe — where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st,” he told NATO officers and officials in a speech at the National Defense University, the Defense Department-financed graduate school for military officers and diplomats.

A perception of European weakness, he warned, could provide a “temptation to miscalculation and aggression” by hostile powers.

The meeting was a prelude to the alliance’s review this year of its basic mission plan for the first time since 1999. “Right now,” Mr. Gates said, “the alliance faces very serious, long-term, systemic problems.”

Mr. Gates’s blunt comments came just three days after the coalition government of the Netherlands collapsed in a dispute over keeping Dutch troops in Afghanistan. It now appears almost certain that most of the 2,000 Dutch troops there will be withdrawn this year. And polls show that the Afghanistan war has grown increasingly unpopular in nearly every European country.

The defense secretary, putting a sharper point on his past criticisms, outlined how NATO shortfalls were exacting a material toll in Afghanistan. The alliance’s failure to finance needed helicopters and cargo aircraft, for example, was “directly impacting operations,” he said.

Mr. Gates said that NATO also needed more aerial refueling tankers and intelligence-gathering equipment “for immediate use on the battlefield.”

Yet alliance members, he noted, were far from reaching their spending commitments, with only 5 of 28 having reached the established target: 2 percent of gross domestic product for defense. By comparison, the United States spends more than 4 percent of its G.D.P. on its military.

Dana Allin, a senior fellow with the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, called Mr. Gates’s remarks “very striking.”

“Whether this is a conscious statement to sound a real sharp warning, there’s no question that the frustration among the American military establishment is palpable regarding coalition operations in Afghanistan,” he said.

Mr. Gates did soften his message a bit, noting that, not counting United States forces, NATO troops in Afghanistan were to increase to 50,000 this year, from 30,000 last year.

“By any measure,” he said, “that is an extraordinary feat.”

More sobering, he said, was that just two months into the year, NATO was facing shortfalls of hundreds of millions of euros — “a natural consequence of having underinvested in collective defense for over a decade.”

NATO’s problems — greatly magnified by the expansion of its mandate beyond European borders, following 9/11 — called for “serious, far-reaching and immediate reforms,” Mr. Gates said.

Indeed, the secretary general of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, last month turned to an unlikely source — Russia — to request helicopters for use in Afghanistan, arguing that this would help reduce the terrorism threat and drug trade on a border of the former Soviet Union.

Mr. Rasmussen, speaking at the same meeting as Mr. Gates, said that NATO’s members needed to better coordinate their weapons purchases. The European Union and NATO should collaborate on developing capabilities like heavy-lift helicopters, he said, and avoid “spending double money.”