Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
U.S. frustration with Europe’s unwillingness or inability to commit resources to Afghanistan, both in terms of men and materiel, appears to have boiled over. Last week U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington that public and political opposition to the military was so great in Europe it was affecting NATO operations in Afghanistan. The alliance desperately needed combat helicopters and cargo planes, but years of successive cutbacks in defence funding by European nations had left it unable to rise to the challenge.
”The demilitarization of Europe — where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st,” he said, addressing military officers from many of NATO’s 28 member countries at the defense university.
If Europe were seen to be weak, it could provide a “temptation to miscalculation and aggression” by hostile powers, Gates said in the sharpest criticism yet of its ally. The message was that ”pacifist” Europe had to pull its weight, realise that even if its borders were safe there were threats further afield, and bolster its defences. So far only five out of 28 member nations of NATO had reached an established target of increasing defence spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product. The United States, by contrast, spends 4 percent of its GDP on the military.