Then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ recent appeal for Europe to shoulder more of the West’s defense burden was an important “wake-up call” for European nations, as they weigh draconian defense-budget cuts, the chief of the European Defense Agency said Monday.
Claude-France Arnould told The Washington Times that “everything was correct” in Mr. Gates’ June speech.
Mr. Gates excoriated “those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership … but don’t want to share the risks and the costs.” He said that “those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t.”
Mr. Gates’ remarks shocked some European leaders for its unusual bluntness.
However, Ms. Arnould said that “for the big majority [of European defense chiefs], the reaction was that we should take it seriously and put our acts together.”
While U.S. defense spending has ballooned since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, total European defense spending has declined roughly 15 percent. Further cuts are expected because of the European debt crisis.
The U.S. share of NATO defense spending was roughly half at the end of the Cold War and now exceeds three quarters. Mr. Gates noted that only four other NATO members - Britain, France, Greece and Albania - meet the alliance threshold for defense spending, which is 2 percent of GDP.
Ms. Arnould said she thought Mr. Gates’ speech “was a strong encouragement to Europeans to act by themselves on some operations.” However, she noted the NATO operation in Libya as an example where Europe would have been hard-pressed to act alone.
“To do it that way in Libya, it had to be done with the United States,” she said.
Ms. Arnould added, though, that “for some member states, it is key to make sure that for Article 5 issues, we are still together with the United States.”
Article 5 of NATO’s charter states that an attack on one of the allies “shall be considered an attack against them all.”
As Europe’s defense chief, Ms. Arnould has been at the forefront of Europe’s “pooling-and-sharing” initiative, which European defense ministers launched last September to find ways to cooperate in defense areas and save money.
Ms. Arnould identified maritime surveillance, cyberdefense, helicopter training, satellite communications, and research on homemade bombs as areas where combined European efforts are already bearing fruit.