It may be obvious, but Gates’ two examples of non-U.S. NATO failings have nothing to do with European defense. Certainly, the limitations of European military power show that their governments remain dependent on the U.S. for security, but there are few worse ways to persuade European governments and publics that they have the wrong priorities than to lecture them on their insufficient support for Afghanistan and Libya....Hiatt's crew complains,
As for Libya, it is important to remember that the governments that have contributed nothing to the war never wanted to attack Libya, and they wanted to keep NATO out of it all together. Gates directed his ire at several of these governments the other day, as if Germany, Poland, and Turkey should be expected to pitch in to support a military campaign they explicitly opposed. These are not the governments that wanted the U.S. to engage in combat missions in Libya, because they didn’t want any outside government taking military action in Libya. What Gates should have acknowledged when faced with the refusal of German, Polish, and Turkish governments to participate in bombing Libya is that Libya is not properly a matter for NATO and should never have been a NATO mission.
As [Gates] made clear, this country can no longer afford to do a disproportionate share of NATO’s fighting and pay a disproportionate share of its bills while Europe slashes its defense budgets and free-rides on the collective security benefits.And Gates has different priorities than the nations of Europe, who see significant benefit in "free riding". For that matter, I don't recall Hiatt and his crew coming out against austerity measures in Europe. Even if we ignore how popular it would be for European nations to announce tens of billions in new military spending as they slash domestic programs, the question arises: how is increasing military spending consistent with austerity? As Hiatt knows from his own paper, Britain's austerity measures include significant cuts in military spending.
Hiatt's crew complains that Europe places too many restrictions on the rules of engagement when it commits troops to NATO ventures, and that Libya should be more important to Europe than it is to the U.S., presumably because it's closer? They also complain that the nations involved in the bombing of Libya don't have the resources to carry out a perpetual campaign:
Even fully participating members have failed to train enough targeting specialists to keep all of their planes flying sorties or to buy enough munitions to sustain a bombing campaign much beyond the present 11 weeks.Can we be honest for a moment? The fact that the European nations who wanted to participate in the Libyan adventure cannot sustain a 12 week bombing campaign against a nation in North Africa does not mean that they cannot defend themselves. The fact that they impose strict rules of engagement on their troops when deployed for NATO missions in Africa or Asia does not mean that, if faced with military invasion, they would apply those same rules. The fact that nobody is talking about using nuclear weapons in Libya does not mean that, when Europe faced an actual and potentially imminent existential threat, the probable use of nuclear weapons in its defense was not taken for granted.
That should frighten every defense ministry in Europe. What if they had to fight a more formidable enemy than Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s fractured dictatorship?
I also expect that if the nations of Europe did perceive a growing, potentially existential threat, they would buy some additional planes and bombs in response. One reason not to do so is that, used or not, the ongoing cost of training, support and maintenance is significant. Another reason not to do so is out of recognition that when you have greater military capacity there's always somebody, within the state or on the outside, who wants you to use it. When President McCain says, "It's time to invade... Iran", it's easier to respond, "We can't" than "We won't."
In specific relation to Libya, the priorities here have less to do with Europe's ability to defend itself from proximate or imminent threats, and more to do with its unwillingness to pour huge amounts of money into overseas adventurism. Yes, sometimes threats do arise in other continents, and under some circumstances it may make sense to take military action in those nations as a matter of self-defense. But humanitarian missions, as the Libyan adventure was initially described, are not a matter of self-defense. And as should be obvious to anybody who has paid even slight attention to world history, past or present, military interventions often do not go as planned and often carry serious repurcussions. George W. Bush and Tony Blair presented Gadafi as proof positive of the success of the "War on Terror", and now he's a poster child for the evil despots of the world who must be removed at any cost... which in a sense takes us back to Reagan's time, except that Reagan put a pretty low ceiling on the cost he was willing to incur to depose Gadafi. How is this mission vital to Europe's interests?