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Gates Warns Of NATO's 'Dim' Future

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offering his blunt assessment of NATO earlier today (June 10, 2011) in Brussels.
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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offering his blunt assessment of NATO earlier today (June 10, 2011) in Brussels.

Saying that NATO faces a "dim, if not dismal future," outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates told U.S. allies in Europe today that the alliance now has two tiers:

"Those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership, be they security guarantees or headquarters billets, but don't want to share the risks and the costs."

That, he warned at a conference in Brussels, "is unacceptable."

"The blunt reality," said Gates, according to a report from American Forces Press Service that's posted on the Pentagon's website, "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 — nations apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets."

Gates, who retires on June 30, did not single out any of NATO's other 27 members for criticism. But he pointedly mentioned those who have found ways to contribute to such operations as the military campaign now underway in Libya.

He said that "though some smaller NATO members have modestly sized and funded militaries that do not meet the 2 percent threshold [the percent of GDP members have agreed to spend on defense], several of these allies have managed to punch well above their weight because of the way they use the resources they have."

From the Armed Forces Press Service report:

"For example, he said, Norway and Denmark have provided 12 percent of allied strike aircraft in the Libya operation, yet have struck about one-third of the targets, and Belgium and Canada also are making major contributions to the strike mission.

" '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,' Gates said."

Gates delivered his remarks at a forum , which calls itself "Brussels' only dedicated security and defense think-tank."

Update at 10:05 a.m. ET: The Pentagon has now posted Gates' remarks. Or, if you prefer, click on "Secretary Gates' Address About NATO's Future" in the box below to read it here.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.