Europe Not Worth Defending

Robert Gates, the outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary delivered a stunning rebuke to European leaders in a recent speech delivered in Brussels, Belgium. Speaking during a self-described moment of candor Secretary Gates complained of the continued unreliability of America’s European partners in military matters; citing to the decision of the Netherlands to pull out its troops early from Afghanistan in 2009, as well as the continued reluctance of Germany to commit its forces to combat roles for NATO missions. Concluding his comments with a rhetorical question, Mr. Gates openly wondered whether future U.S. Presidents, in light of continued economic stagnation for the foreseeable future, will think that it is worth the investment to aid Europe in matters of defense.

Mr. Gates’ frustration has been shared by a generation of U.S. leaders who have complained about footing the bill for military engagements that European leaders officially support, but rarely commit the needed resources to. Examples include the NATO interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and now most recently, Libya, where U.S. military assets and personnel are relied upon disproportionately to carry out the mission. The outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary’s comments are even more relevant during a period when economic instability in the United States has led to calls for cuts to military spending.

The Secretary’s comments leave open the question as to what exactly European leaders would do in response to an American pull back. European populations are far too committed to the extensive social services provided by most governments to entertain a shift in spending away from such programs in favor of a military build-up. Moreover, while Europe is suffering the economic instability plaguing other parts of the world, the notion of raising taxes is certainly not appealing.

The answer may come in the form of greater European military cooperation. The recent agreement reached by Britain and France to begin sharing key military assets, such as use of the French aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, as a means of cutting costs may set a precedent for the rest of the EU. Some leaders within the EU have proposed for over a decade the creation of a pan European military force. However, this has met with little success because of the overwhelming reliance placed by most of Europe on the American led NATO alliance. If Mr. Gates’ comments turn out to be prescient, and Washington does begin pulling back from its traditional leadership role in European military matters, the gap may well be filled with the rise of a new, European military.

For more regarding Secretary Gates’ recent speech, read the recent EU Observer article reporting his comments.

Eye on Europe

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