Friday, June 10, 2011

Poking Allies in the Eye with a Sharp Stick

I am only posting on the SecDef Gates speech on NATO now rather than earlier in the day because I was getting briefings and tours at a Canadian airbase.  The purpose of this trip (five hours from Montreal) was to learn more about the Canadian air folks and ask questions about Libya.  So, it is funny that while I was riding to the base yesterday and then walking around it today that SecDef Gates did his best Rumsfeld imitation and poked the Europeans in their respective eyes with a metapohorical sharp stick. 
“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,” Mr. Gates said.He was dismissive of some NATO partners as “nations apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets.”
 So, what are my thoughts on this?
  • Surprise.  I know that Gates is smarter than this.  Or at least, he knows that trashing his NATO partners will not lead to much increased flexibility on the part of the Germans or the Turks.  I interviewed the US Military Representative at NATO a few months ago and he noted that the US had realized that this method did not work and had become much smarter about trying to persuade the allies to kick in more.
  • Frustration.   This is not going to change what the Germans are doing. Merkl has misplayed this, like lots of other things lately, so this public spat is not going to do much.
  • Elation. Woohoo!!  My next book (with David Auerswald) matters big time!  What we are writing about regarding Afghanistan is relevant for Libya and for future NATO ops.  The US SecDef says so.  
  • Annoyance.  People are going to pickup on Gates's use of irrelevant to suggest that NATO is irrelevant.  It ain't and it is not going to be.  While NATO has some significant problems and will have even more once Europe cuts their defense budgets further, NATO is still the most powerful, competent multilateral defense entity on the planet.  There are three choices: US alone, NATO, or nothing.  More or less.  The really telling fact about NATO's relevance: all NATO countries plus nearly 20 more are in Afghanistan.  Even though some have opted out entirely of the Libyan operation, the alliance does (dare I say it) create some obligations that are costly to break.  The Poles can get away with it this time (and should) because of their significant commitment in Afghanistan.  The Germans cannot so much since they have some key capabilities for the Libyan mission and are being more difficult than usual.  But the NATO imprimatur makes it easier and perhaps even possible for some of the more effective countries to participate--Canada, Norway, Denmark--and for Italy to provide bases.  So, NATO is hardly irrelevant.  
So, there you have it.  My take on Gates, having only read part of the speech.


Brandon Valeriano said...

Death to NATO! Loved the speech, one of those go out with a bang, screw you all endings that people love so much (except for those people in NATO).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response. Could this speech have been made primarily for internal political consumption?

Anonymous said...

You do know you keep misspelling Merkel, right?

Steve Saideman said...

I leave out the E to protest Germany's insufficient efforts. If they cannot provide more support for NATO ops, then I will provide less than complete spelling of their chancellor's name.

Or, ooops.