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US warns Europe over NATO future

Emma Alberici reported this story on Saturday, June 11, 2011 08:04:00

EMILY BOURKE: The US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has warned a gathering of European leaders in
Brussels that the days of the NATO alliance are numbered so long as Europe relies on the American
taxpayer to fund the bulk of the military missions.

In his farewell address, Mr Gates attacked the EU for its decline in defence spending and he said
that Washington would eventually decide that being a member of NATO was no longer a worthwhile
investment.

Europe correspondent Emma Alberici.

EMMA ALBERICI: Just three weeks out from his retirement, the US Defence Secretary told a European
think tank that there was no future for NATO under the current arrangement where the United States
is forced to foot 75 per cent of the bill.

He pointed out that only five countries of the 28-member alliance currently spend the agreed
minimum 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence - the United States, the UK, France, Greece
and Albania.

On Capitol Hill, there was outrage that defence spending throughout Europe has declined by almost
15 per cent over the past decade in the aftermath of September 11.

ROBERT GATES: What I've sketched out is the real possibility for a dim, if not dismal future for
the trans-Atlantic alliance.

EMMA ALBERICI: Robert Gates highlighted the war in Afghanistan as a prime example of a campaign
being conducted under NATO auspices but where the United States bears the overwhelming burden of
resourcing and funding.

While the US maintains close to two million troops in uniform, NATO struggles, at times desperately
he said, to sustain a deployment of less than 45,000 and can barely provide critical support with
helicopters, transport, aircraft maintenance, surveillance and intelligence.

When it comes to Libya, the Pentagon chief said it was unacceptable that just nine of 28 NATO
countries are actively engaged.

ROBERT GATES: Furthermore, the mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 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 US once more to make up the difference.

Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to
participate, but simply because they cannot. The military capabilities simply aren't there.

EMMA ALBERICI: In his final policy speech, he questioned the viability of NATO, a military alliance
born in 1949 as a US led protector against Soviet aggression.

ROBERT GATES: Future US political leaders, those for whom the Cold War was not the formative
experience that it was for me, may not consider the return on America's investment in NATO worth
the cost.

EMMA ALBERICI: These were sentiments voiced before but never with such vigour and from such a
senior member of the administration. So far Europe has been quiet in response.

There might be a will to contribute more but in these harsh economic times, finding the way may
prove more difficult.

This is Emma Alberici in London for Saturday AM.