I have already commented on Secretary Gates farewell message about NATO's "dim, if not dismal" future, if European NATO members do not share more of the burden.
Professor Juan Cole offers a similar short "translation" of Secretary Gates words and his own comments in his popular "Informed Comment" blog:
Shorter SecDef Robert Gates: European members of NATO need to bankrupt themselves with military spending and wars just as the United States has done, or else the US Congress will stop being willing to support NATO's war efforts.
The problem is that being less militarized is working for the German economy, e.g. Not having so many men under arms or stockpiles of expensive military equipment may actually deter military adventurism of the sort the US has pursued in Iraq (and of which Gates has himself been critical).
It is the US that needs and has needed NATO, in e.g. Afghanistan, not the other way around. The limited and likely short-term Libya intervention is mainly an Anglo-French initiative, and those two have a history of small wars in the global South, and they'll be fine without a leading role for the US.
Gates's lambasting of France, Britain and a few other NATO members for the slow progress in the Libya war is unfair. They have had major successes in protecting Benghazi and Misrata, both of which would have fallen without their intervention. Air power cannot take or hold territory, and the untrained and amateurish Free Libya forces are not in a position to just march into the capital of Tripoli. The US Air Force's 'shock and awe' campaign in Iraq also failed to produce any tangible results, and it was only a land invasion that allowed the US to depose Saddam Hussein quickly.
The Guardian concludes its editorial "Does Nato have a purpose any longer?":
The reality is that Nato feels like an anachronism, risk-averse, bloated and militarily inefficient, whose purpose increasingly has been usurped by so-called "coalitions of the willing".
The Financial Times points out correctly that the problem is not just Europe's defense spending, but the lack of coordination:
But there is too little co-ordination between national defence ministries on how they allocate precious resources. Duplication of capabilities is rife. The EU has 21 naval shipyards, while the US has three. Europeans have 89 different weapons programmes while the US has 27. Europe has 11 tank programmes; the US has two. (...)
Some EU states recognise the need for enhanced defence co-operation. Britain and France, Europe's two big military powers, signed treaties last October that recognise how capabilities must be shared if they are not to be lost. But elsewhere in Europe, there is little appetite for pooling resources. Defence experts say Germany remains firmly resistant to defence co-operation, feeling it has been badly burnt by participation in multilateral projects that went well over budgets and deadlines.
"Talking Truth to NATO" is the headline of the NY Times editorial:
The free-rider problem is an old one but has gotten even worse over the last two decades. During most of the cold war, the United States accounted for 50 percent of total NATO military spending; today it accounts for 75 percent.
Let's talk truth to the NYT: Europe seized the opportunity of the peace dividend after the end of the Cold War, while America's elite of neocons and liberal interventionists have turned "Perpetual War" into US ideology as James Joyner argues.