EUROPEAN countries were accused of having an anti-war attitude that is threatening world security by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates yesterday.
European aversion to military force is limiting NATO’s ability to fight wars effectively, Gates said.
In remarks to a forum on rewriting the basic mission plan for the NATO alliance, Gates called for far-reaching reforms.
The early successes of NATO in averting post- World War II eruptions of European conflict have led to a new set of concerns, Gates said.
“The demilitarisation of Europe – where large swathes 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 told an audience filled with uniformed military officers from many of NATO’s 28 member states.
The danger, he said, is that potential future adversaries may view NATO as a paper tiger.
“Not only can real or perceived weakness be a temptation to miscalculation and aggression, but, on a more basic level, the resulting funding and capability shortfalls make it difficult to operate and fight together to confront shared threats,” Gates said.
In his more than three years as Pentagon chief, Gates has repeatedly urged European members of NATO to boost their defence budgets and to find ways to modernise their forces, while also praising their commitment to fighting alongside the United States in Afghanistan.
“For many years, for example, we have been aware that NATO needs more cargo aircraft and more helicopters of all types, and yet we still don’t have these capabilities,” he said.
“And their absence is directly impacting operations in Afghanistan.
“Similarly, NATO requires more aerial refuelling tankers and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms for immediate use on the battlefield.”
Gates welcomed the in- depth effort by NATO to revise and update what it calls its “strategic concept”, or its basic mission document. He stressed that it must be more than a paper exercise, given the real- world conflicts NATO is fighting today – with about 120,000 troops, including US forces, in Afghanistan, and the prospect of staying there in some numbers for years to come.
“Most are living in austere conditions, and many are facing enemy fire on a daily basis,” he said. “That is a stark reminder that NATO is not now, nor should it ever be, a talk-shop or a Renaissance weekend on steroids. It is a military alliance with real-world obligations that have life-or- death consequences.”
A group of experts led by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright is working to update NATO’s strategic concept. It was last revised in 1999, before the alliance began substantial military operations beyond its borders – most notably in Afghanistan.
Gates’ speech kicked off a day-long seminar at the National Defence University to wrap up preliminary thinking on how to revise the strategic concept.
The final product is expected to be formally adopted at an alliance summit in November in Lisbon, Portugal. NATO nations had a major falling out over the Iraq war in 2003, with several, including France, Germany and Belgium, opposing it and blocking alliance participation.
In remarks on Monday night, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “I believe that the original tenets of NATO’s mission, defending our nations, strengthening trans-Atlantic ties, and fostering European integration, still hold,”
What needs to change is how the alliance pursues its goals, she said:. “As any good soldier knows, success in a protracted struggle is not simply a matter of having more troops or better equipment. It’s also a function of how effectively you adapt to new circumstances... You don’t win by fighting the last war.”
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