Is NATO coming apart at the seams over Libya?

On June 10, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Europeans they need to spend more on Defense and play a greater role or the US would take its military toys and play somewhere else. The threat has the Europeans squirming and it may mark a major turning point in Europe’s balance of power.

Gates complained of what he called a “two-tiered” NATO where there are “those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burden of commitments and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership but don’t want to share the risks and costs.”

The very next day Germany, who opted out of the war on Libya, sent its foreign minister to Benghazi to recognize the rebel National Transition Council. Nato’s Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, echoed Gates and called on Europeans to “step up to the plate.” He complained that France, the UK, Greece and Albania are only spending 2% of their GDP on Defense while US spending is 5.4%. As a matter of fact, at 786 billion dollars, the US accounts for half the world’s military spending. (China, for example, spends only 91 billion)

 Washington is in a position of force. France and the UK have run out of ammunition and are being supplied by the US for their attacks on Libya. How can this be? They are in the process of destroying a desert country of nomadic tribesmen and they have run out of ammunition! Were these armies not meant to fight the Soviet Union in the good old days of the Cold War?

“The mightiest military alliance in history,” Gates said, “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.”

Gates was not enthusiastic for the war against Libya and he said so from the beginning. After all, not only does the US not have a dog in that fight, but Colonel Qaddafi was a loyal ally in the fight against al Qaeda. Libya is Sarkozy’s and Cameron’s new game but they need Gates’s toys to play it.

The French budget for military operations is $900 million dollars this year. Not very much if you consider that the first night of the war against Libya, the US launched 120 Cruise missiles against Qaddafi at a million dollars a pop. The UK launched two that night. The French say they are spending two million dollars a day to bomb Libya, a figure I find low but high enough to eat up their budget given that they fought a very expensive war in Cote d’Ivoire to put their puppet Alassane Ouattara in power.

The French and Germans also have four thousand men in Afghanistan which costs about a million dollars per soldier per year. Gates says NATO should have done more and is showing its “irrelevance” and this may be what really has the Europeans squirming.

The Americans have over 100 thousand troops in Afghanistan and that war alone costs tax-payers over two billion dollars a week. The Americans could easily continue what they are doing without European participation. And Washington no longer needs international caution for this war as they are looking for a way to get out of it themselves. So why not tell the Europeans what wimps they are and that you don’t need them and you don’t want to play with them anymore? If the US does decide it does not need NATO, or Europe for that matter, and would rather prepare the war to come with China, this will spell bad news for Bosnia and Kosovo, not to mention other small pro-European Republics like Georgia.

Even if the press missed the beat in Brussels last week, historians may well look back at Gates’s speech as a major turning point in Europe’s military balance. Europeans will have to “step up to the plate” or risk becoming “irrelevant” and incapable of imposing their will on others. This could be Qaddafi’s victory in defeat. Wars are fine as long as they are somewhere else and don’t cost the tax-payer. European citizens are not ready to accept greater Defense spending at a time of budget cuts.