Gates to NATO: You guys suck

SecDef tells the once-vital alliance it could have "a dim, if not dismal future" if it can't get its political and military act together.

Have you ever imagined quitting your job and telling your old cretin of a boss exactly what you think of him? Of course — it’s the American dream. And Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is living it right now, having gone to the doorstep of one of the world’s most ossified, stultifying bureaucracies — NATO — and delivered this message: Get your act together.

There will come a time, Gates warned, when a generation of Americans and their leaders will have no memory of the era in which NATO was a critical bulwark against the Soviets. When that day comes, Americans from the White House on down will begin to seriously question why the U.S. should maintain an alliance that seems to serve no purpose but to provide a forum for high-level dithering. Oh, and there’s more: Gates went straight after those NATO members that don’t meet their military commitments or attach so many conditions to the activities of their troops that they’re effectively useless in big, joint operations like Afghanistan.

“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,” Gates said.

Thom Shanker of the New York Times picks up the story:

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.”

Mr. Gates has spent his final weeks before retirement speaking forthrightly on issues that ranged from preserving Pentagon spending to sustaining combat forces in Afghanistan. But his address on Friday to the Security and Defense Agenda, a Brussels policy center, was among the most pointed and challenging ever delivered by the former C.I.A. director who has served eight presidents of both political parties.

Despite signs of real progress in Afghanistan, the mission has been weakened by “the inability of many allies to meet agreed upon commitments,” Mr. Gates said. The war effort also has been hobbled by “national ‘caveats’ that tied the hands of allied commanders in sometimes infuriating ways,” he added.

Oh man, and get a load of this:

The defense secretary was even harsher in his critique of NATO’s command of the Libya operation. After an initial bombing campaign run by the Americans, the alliance took over the air war and Mr. Gates warned that NATO may not be up to the task.

“The mightiest military alliance in history is only eleven weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country — yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference,” Mr. Gates said.

While the Libya war was unanimously endorsed by NATO nations, less than half are participating, and less than a third are carrying out strike missions.

“Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t,” Mr. Gates said. “The military capabilities simply aren’t there.”

And what, he didn’t add, is the point of a military alliance in which the allies can’t act militarily? Bob Burns of the AP has more:

The war in Afghanistan, which is being conducted under NATO auspices, is a prime example of U.S. frustration at European inability to provide the required resources.

“Despite more than 2 million troops in uniform, not counting the U.S. military, NATO has struggled, at times desperately, to sustain a deployment of 25,000 to 45,000 troops, not just in boots on the ground, but in crucial support assets such as helicopters, transport aircraft, maintenance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and much more,” Gates said …

A NATO air operations center designed to handle more than 300 flights a day is struggling to launch about 150 a day against Libya, Gates said.

Of course, Gates didn’t go with a full scorched-earth policy and say things are hopeless — he said that if NATO wants to stave off irrelevance, its member nations “must must examine new approaches to boosting combat capabilities — in procurement, in training, in logistics, in sustainment.” But based on the reports from Friday morning, U.S. time, it doesn’t sound like he was very optimistic.