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American Forces Press Service

Gates Voices Concern Over NATO Shortfalls

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2010 – After underfunding NATO for more than a decade, the Western security bloc now faces a budget crisis by an order of hundreds of millions of euros, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.

Going a step further, Gates said the shortfall, with a vast majority of alliance members failing to meet budget goals, is symptomatic of a larger flaw: deep problems in how NATO perceives and responds to threats in an era when its scope has widened beyond traditional Cold War boundaries.

“The problem is not just underfunding of NATO,” Gates said at the National Defense University here. “Since the end of the Cold War, NATO and national defense budgets have fallen consistently, even with unprecedented operations outside NATO's territory over the past five years.”

Gates’ remarks to NATO representatives come as the alliance undergoes a self-assessment that will culminate in the Strategic Concept, a once-per-decade process of redefining and articulating the alliance’s purpose and capabilities in light of the often mercurial security environment that frames the 28-member organization.

While the defense secretary said the new concept would not attempt to “reinvent the wheel,” he acknowledged dramatic changes in the security landscape since similar self-analyses were conducted in decades past. Threats such as transnational terrorism emanating from failed states, for instance, were mostly theoretical concerns when the collective security group outlined it in the 1999 concept paper.

In addition to financial considerations, Gates focused his comments on Article 5 -- the NATO charter’s backbone that stipulates an attack against one member is an attack against all. Al-Qaida terrorists launched the 9/11 attacks against the United States after training in Afghanistan as hosts of the Taliban-led government that ruled there at that time.

“It was the attacks of Sept. 11 and the Afghanistan campaign that turned what had been theoretical analysis into reality,” Gates said. “Few would have imagined that the first invocation of Article 5 in the alliance's history would follow an attack on the United States homeland by a nonstate entity based in a nation far beyond NATO's traditional borders -- a desperately poor country scorned and ignored by the international community.”

But nearly a decade after the Taliban were toppled from power in Afghanistan, Gates expressed concerns about NATO member nations’ level of commitment, suggesting that the political and cultural climates in Europe have caused the credibility of Article 5 to be called into question -- an aspect of NATO’s identity that the new concept should go further to restore, he added.

“I believe we have reached an inflection point, where much of the continent has gone too far in the other direction,” Gates said of contemporary Europe’s view of its security needs.. “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.”

Gates praised the beefed-up troop commitment that member nations have pledged in Afghanistan, where non-U.S. troops will increase from roughly 30,000 last summer to 50,000. He urged NATO to muster the same commitment and willingness in its approach to a much-needed overhaul of its current institutional practices.

“All of this should be a wake-up call that NATO needs serious, far-reaching, and immediate reforms to address a crisis that has been years in the making,” he said. “And unless the Strategic Concept spurs operational and institutional changes like those I just mentioned, it will not be worth the paper it is printed on.”

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