Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is on his way to Brussels to have a difficult conversation with his fellow defense ministers in NATO. The point of contention is the continued reduction of the military capabilities of our allies and their growing dependence on U.S. support.
Hagel will repeat to European allies the stark message made by Robert Gates on his last trip to Brussels as defense secretary. Gates made international headlines with his warning of “a dim, if not dismal future” for NATO if it continues to be divided “between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership… but don’t want to share the risks and the costs.”
Hagel will make many U.S. allies uncomfortable by emphasizing their need to resolve the worsening gap in defense capabilities within NATO. Hagel warned earlier that “as NATO adjusts, it must address the gaps in military expenditures and capabilities of its partners. The tough decisions cannot continue to be deferred.”
Hagel was even more explicit at the defense ministers meeting in June when he said “over-dependence on any one country for critical capabilities brings with it risks.” One of these risks is that the U.S. will soon tell its allies, if you don’t invest much in your defense, neither will we. The U.S. will “rebalance” its own shrinking defense dollars to allies and partners that share the security burden more equitably. Too many European leaders refuse to realize that this long-festering problem is having a dangerously corrosive effect on the Alliance.
The European members of NATO are geographically closer and arguably more vulnerable than the U.S. to the growing violence and instability across the Mediterranean, the Sahel, and the Middle East. Unless significant progress is made to fairly live up to their defense commitments, Europe will have to deal with these threats with a decreasing amount of U.S. military support. It is only a matter of time before the Obama administration turns down future requests for assistance from allies who ignored the dangers in their neighborhood and chose to starve their defense capabilities.
Unless our European allies change course, Gates’ dire warning will soon come true. “The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. … 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.”
This can still be avoided if our NATO allies improve their military capabilities and carry their fair share of the defense burden. What cannot be avoided is the end of the status quo. Either our European allies change their defense behavior or the U.S. will, but the current imbalance within the NATO alliance is not sustainable.
Full article: Will the U.S. ‘Rebalance’ Its Contribution to NATO? (Defense One)