Robert Gates issues stern warning to European partners in farewell speech

Contributor:  Jonathan Dowdall
Posted:  06/10/2011  12:00:00 AM EDT
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10 June 2010

Jonathan Dowdall -
reporting from Brussels
 
Hail and farewell . . . and general disappointment

In his last ever political address as Secretary of Defense for the United States of America, Robert Gates has rounded off his 11 day over-seas “swan-song tour” with a firm warning to European allies that they ”must be responsible for their share of collective defence”, in order to avoid strategic irrelevance.
 
 
Robert Gates is known for his public candour, both in US political spheres as well as
in the global arena [image: US DoD]
 

Speaking to assembled representatives at the Security & Defence Agenda (a Brussels based policy forum), Mr Gates discussed the state and future of the so called “transatlantic relationship” between Europe and the US Using his now career-defining candor, he stated that “I will share these views in the spirit of solidarity and friendship; with the understanding that sometimes, friends must speak to each other bluntly.”

His assessment of recent European military performance was indeed blunt, citing unimpressive troop commitments in Afghanistan and a lack of capable ground attack platforms in Libya as proof that European NATO members were under-performing in their defence reform efforts. “Investment accounts for capabilities not required in Afghanistan have been squeezed, and now Libya is exposing many operational shortcomings”, he lamented.

Most tragically, this is “not because allies do not want to get involved, but simply because they cannot. The capabilities are just not there.” Indeed, the Defense Secretary admitted that some of his more dire warnings about NATO during his tenure were now coming true; especially regarding the looming gap between alliance members capable of advanced military action, and those who lack the resources and expertise to do so. “In the past I have worried openly about a “two-tier alliance - this is no longer a hypothetical concern”.

In his closing remarks, Mr Gates also warned that due to domestic economic pressures, the US would likely experience a “dwindling appetite and patience for committing precious resources to support allies incapable or unwilling to invest in their own defence”.

Indeed, looking to the future he predicted that unless Europe acts now, US officials could begin to drift away from transatlantic priorities. “In many ways I am the last senior leader, the last [of] whom is a product of the Cold war”, he warned. “The emotional and political relationship with Europe is “ageing out” in Congress and elsewhere”, in a way which could threaten future transatlantic cooperation.

Yet ultimately, Mr Gates still believes that “NATO members have it within their means to avert this dim vision of the future”. Through proactive military reform and renewed commitment, “it is not too late to get these political and defence relationships back on track”"
 
Jonathan Dowdall Contributor:   Jonathan Dowdall


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