Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave NATO a lot to think about in his final major policy address today in Brussels, mainly whether the alliance will remain a viable, unified force going forward.
The air campaign in Libya has raised these serious questions about NATO's capabilities and "dim if not dismal" future, Gates said in his high-octane address.
"The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress – and in the American body politic writ large – to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense," Gates warned.
Gates called the European shirkers "nations apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets."
He praised some European for demonstrating in Libya they can take the point on the British- and French-led NATO operation, but warned if more countries do not beef up their resources the alliance will become irrelevant.
"We have the spectacle of an air operations center designed to handle more than 300 sorties a day struggling to launch about 150," Gates said.
"Furthermore, the mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 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," he lamented.
He noted "while every alliance member voted for Libya mission, less than half have participated at all, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission."
"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. The military capabilities simply aren’t there, Gates explained.
The unnamed NATO deadbeats in Libya include Germany, Spain, Holland, Poland and Turkey, but on the upside Gates believes there have been countries that stepped up in Libya.
"In the Libya operation, Norway and Denmark, have provided 12% of allied strike aircraft yet have struck about one third of the targets. Belgium and Canada are also making major contributions to the strike mission," Gates said.
"These countries have, with their constrained resources, found ways to do the training, buy the equipment, and field the platforms necessary to make a credible military contribution. These examples are the exceptions," Gates added.
The former CIA director Gates was called back to service in 2006 from a comfortable job running Texas A&M University by President George W. Bush is finally stepping down after staying on as Pentagon chief to serve as President Obama's Defense secretary, as well.