June 10, 2011

Gates Lashes Out At NATO Allies, Citing Shortfalls In Libya Conflict

When a military stalemate began to emerge, Gates agreed to provide several armed Predator drones, which have been used in airstrikes. U.S. aircraft have flown 75% of the sorties, Pentagon officials said, but the U.S. has resisted pressure to send ground-attack helicopters or aircraft, which are designed to isolate and eliminate small targets.

Gates' critique drew support from both sides of the aisle in Washington.

Some NATO nations "need to have the pressure put on them and be reminded of [their] commitments and what NATO's all about," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"Our NATO allies are not carrying their weight," agreed Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).

Such criticism is not new. U.S. officials complained during the Cold War that NATO partners were not carrying their share, but the issue has reached crisis intensity in recent months as tensions grew over Libya and Afghanistan.

Gates pointed out that European military budgets have fallen by 15% since Sept. 11, 2001, while U.S. defense spending has more than doubled. Gates conceded that he sees little prospect of change, especially when most European governments face intense fiscal pressure.

Nora Bensahel of the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington said Gates' speech carried "an important tough-love message" that, if NATO countries don't share more of the load, U.S. leaders will exclude them from strategic calculations and plan more unilateral operations.

But Gates' arguments are unlikely to win much support in Europe, analysts said.

"Calling it a hard sell is putting it mildly — it's a nonstarter at this point," said Charles Kupchan, a National Security Council aide in the Clinton White House.

On the ground in Libya, the NATO assault reached a peak Tuesday, when scores of bombs fell on the capital, Tripoli, in a daylight onslaught. The strikes continued early Friday, with several thunderous explosions near Kadafi's Bab Azizia compound, which has been largely reduced to rubble.

The alliance is now heavily demonized as a confederation bent on installing "a pro-West regime and puppet government and taking all the oil for free," Musa Ibrahim, the chief government spokesman, said after the bombing blitz.

"NATO chooses to side with rebels that said no to peace, and attack a government that said yes to peace," Ibrahim said. He accused the alliance of trying to turn Libya "into an extended arm of Europe."