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Gates scolded NATO Friday for not investing enough in its militaries / DoD photo

A hat-tip to Defense Secretary Robert Gates for warning of NATO’s “dim, if not dismal future” unless its non-U.S. members starting funding their defenses more robustly. After 11 weeks of attacks on Libya, he noted, the allies are running short on bombs. “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,” Mr. Gates said. Some NATO nations are “apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets.”

He must have read our April piece:

While the U.S.’s military spending has jumped from $1,500 per capita in 1998 to $2,700 in 2008, its NATO allies have been spending $500 per person over the same span. As long as the U.S. is overspending on its defense, it lets its allies skimp on theirs and instead pour the savings into infrastructure, education and health care. So even as U.S. taxpayers fret about their health care costs, their tax dollars are paying for a military that is subsidizing the health care of their European allies.

Two key points here:

1. Are the Europeans the wave of the future in their reduced defense expenditures (they spend only about half of the 4% of gross domestic product that the U.S. now spends on its military forces). Or are they limping along in a dangerous world, content to use U.S. military might as a crutch?

2. This is nothing new. Check out these reports from the pages of the New York Times dating back to Cold War days:

August 1982 — PENTAGON REPORT SAYS ALLIES FAIL TO BEAR SHARE OF MILITARY BURDEN

A new Defense Department report to Congress shows that the United States continues to spend more money for military power than all of the nation’s European allies and Japan together…The report appears likely to furnish ammunition to members of Congress who have recently criticized the spending of large sums of American money on military budgets while domestic programs have been cut to reduce the Federal deficit.

May 1988 — MILITARY ALLIANCES: FISCAL SQUEEZE RENEWS DEBATE ON ARMS BURDEN

By almost every measure, the United States carries a greater military and financial share of the burden for the common defense than does any ally or combination of the nation’s allies in Europe and Asia. For decades, that has generated a dispute between those Americans who contend that the load is a small enough price to pay for security and others who argue that the Western allies can afford to contribute more and should be required to do so. A new urgency has now come into that debate. It arises from the economic imperative of holding down military spending and the politics of the election campaigns coming in the fall. More pressure comes from a new emphasis on conventional arms that are more expensive than nuclear weapons and on a spreading, if nebulous, sentiment that the United States is in decline as a world power.

April 1990 — ALLIES STILL LAG ON ARMS, U.S. SAYS

The United States, which spent a larger share of its national income for the military budget in 1988 than virtually all its NATO allies and Japan together, criticized its friends today for not doing enough to close the military spending gap in recent years.

Deja NATO.

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