Is it the end of the glorious Coalition of the Willing? Outgoing US Defense Secretary Robert Gates seems to think so. In an extraordinarily blunt speech in Brussels, the European Union headquarters and seat of European Parliament, Gates has warned Europe that the NATO faces “dim, if not dismal future.”
The US defense chief, who served under George W. Bush and has continued under Barack Obama, suggests that Europe is not seriously committed to the North Atlantic alliance with the United States and risks ending up as a “collective military irrelevance” after years of inadequate defense spending by most members. Gates offers the current NATO campaign in Libya as a case in point where the alliance is said to be confronted with a severe resource and capability crunch. The former CIA analyst complains that Europe depends excessively on US taxpayer for its security, warning a future US president, unfamiliar with the Cold War, may not be so inclined to go along with the one-sided affair.
Clearly, the Pentagon boss is genuinely concerned about the future of Atlantic alliance and perhaps has every reason to be. The trouble is, people like Gates and many in the US and Europe fail to see that the world around them has changed beyond recognition. The NATO was the legacy of the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union and was created solely to confront the so-called “Evil Empire.” The world then was divided into two blocs led by the two superpowers as they endlessly plotted to annihilate each other — and the rest of the world with them. The Berlin Wall dividing Germany into two artificial entities was the most potent symbol of this dangerous and unprecedented confrontation in human history. The two superpowers literally carved the continent into two, both arming their allies with deadliest of weapons ever known to man. Throughout the Cold War, mankind lived in mortal fear and forever faced the threat of being wiped off the planet by the tens of thousands of nuclear weapons in possession of both camps. This is why the world heaved a collective sigh of relief when the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and disintegration of the entire Eastern bloc. Today, Russia is a paler and much watered-down version of its former proud self. It poses no threat to its European neighbors, let alone dare to challenge the might of the remaining superpower.
Yet the US and its allies in Europe refuse to see this fundamental reality and don’t want to get out of the time warp in which they are forever stuck. Even though Europe faces no threat from the Soviet nukes now, the US continues to maintain its military presence across the continent and still has a controversial missile defense shield in place. Billions of dollars are still spent on maintaining those armies. Indeed, the US military presence has actually expanded across the world, including the Middle East.
What will it take for the West to face the reality that the Cold War is over and the NATO is long past its sell-by date? It might have had its uses and played its role in checking communism. But it’s time to give it a decent burial. If the world needs an international peace keeping force to deal with trouble spots like Libya, it should exist under the UN command.