Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave a speech last week in Brussels to a group of NATO ambassadors (Friday, June 10). Several media organizations (NY Times, Wall Street Journal) described it as dire and harsh. It was. The speech, however, also struck me as a lamentation of sorts, and a plea for foresight. The gut of the SecDef’s complaint is an old one: the great majority of European NATO nations don’t pay their fair share of defense costs. The new “blunt reality” (Gates’ term) is the US debt burden. There is and will be no slack to compensate for Euro-shirking. Yes, Europe has a huge debt burden as well. At a very superficial level, Gates is playing bad cop and doing so sets up his successor, Leon Panetta, as the good cop. Panetta can say come, let us reason together. Gates’ critique, however, is anything but superficial. Debt is a strategic threat.
Here is a transcript of the entire speech.
This is a telling line:
“If current trends in the decline of European defense capabilities are not halted and reversed, future U.S. political leaders — those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me — may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost.”
I have some additional thoughts over at StrategyPage. If you’ve time, I suggest you read the entire speech.