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"NATO is Like A Boyfriend/Girlfriend That Won't Commit"

While most US commentators seem to support Secretary Gates criticism of NATO's European members, many also express an understanding of Europe's position and call upon US policy makers to draw the appropriate conclusions rather than to keep asking Europeans to increase their defense spending.

Perhaps they should read the book "He's Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys" by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, because most Europeans these days are just not that into fighting wars outside of Europe.

Michael Cohen compares NATO to A Boyfriend/Girlfriend That Won't Commit:

So you ever know those couples where one of the two really wants to get married, settle down and have kids and the other one just refuses to commit and is evasive about the future of the relationship . . . I think this is a good descriptor of the US-NATO alliance today. (...)

We've known for years that Europe's commitment to defense spending and to foreign wars was shaky at best. We've known that they perceive their national interests and global commitments in less fulsome terms than the United States does. Indeed, Gates actually said this yesterday, "I am the latest in a string of U.S. defense secretaries who have urged allies privately and publicly, often with exasperation, to meet agreed-upon NATO benchmarks for defense spending."

So here's my question - why don't we take a hint? Instead of browbeating Europeans into doing something they don't want to do, why not fold their obvious reluctance to be a better ally into US national security decision-making?

For example, if we know that non-US NATO countries have demonstrated little stomach for the fight in Afghanistan, that they are itching to drawdown their foreign military commitments and they lack the resources and capabilities to be an effective US war-fighting partner . . . why then did we launch a war in Libya based on an assumption of steadfast and committed NATO support?

Stephen M. Walt gets it as well and writes in Foreign Policy:

Americans want Europe to spend more on defense, so that they can contribute more to our far-flung global projects. But why should they? Europe is peaceful, stable, democratic, and faces no serious external military threats. Its combined GNP exceeds ours, and the European members of NATO spend almost eight times more on defense than Russia does.   So where's the threat? The plain truth is that Europe has little reason to invest a lot of money on defense these days, no matter how much Americans implore them to, and so they turn a deaf ear to American entreaties.

The NY Times editorial Beginning of the End for NATO? gets it in these paragraphs:

But now, most European countries, apart from Britain and France, do not see the need for military power. They seem not to believe that military force can resolve conflicts. And despite the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the Europeans do not share the same threat perceptions as the Americans. That, say analysts, is what is undermining the trans-Atlantic relationship.

"The U.S. is a global power, while Europe thinks regionally and believes it is surrounded by friends," said Markus Kaim, defense expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. "The U.S. sees how this demilitarization is undermining NATO."

Arnaud de Borchgrave does not quite get it about "NATO's Half Pregnant Strategy" for the Atlantic Council: "European allies have gradually scaled down their defense contributions on the assumption the United States would continue to do the heavy lifting." Nope, Europeans think they are surrounded by friends and do not see the need to spend so much on defense.

Ted Galen Carpenter from the Cato Institute says NATO has become a Potemkin alliance. He is concerned that the United States will not act upon Secretary Gates' warning:

But Washington's threats to de-emphasize its commitment to NATO are probably as hollow as the alliance's military capabilities themselves. The Europeans have heard this all before. Burden-sharing controversies go back to the early 1950s, punctuated by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles's warning that the United States might have to conduct "an agonizing reappraisal" of its security commitment to Europe if the allies did not put forth a more serious effort. The Europeans suspected that threat was a bluff (which it was), and they probably suspect that the warning from Gates is merely the latest in a long, dreary series of empty threats.

Very boring op-ed in the IHT by Geoffrey Wheatcroft: Who Needs NATO?

I have not read any opinion article in a German paper on Secretary Gates speech. I googled, but found only news article. My assumption is that Gates' speech created much more buzz in the US than in Europe, although primarily Europe was addressed in that speech. Please share interesting articles from the British, German and French press in the comments section with short English translations if possible.

Read more of our Atlantic Review posts  on NATO


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