Shorter SecDef Robert Gates: European members of NATO need to bankrupt themselves with military spending and wars just as the United States has done, or else the US Congress will stop being willing to support NATO’s war efforts.
The problem is that being less militarized is working for the German economy, e.g. Not having so many men under arms or stockpiles of expensive military equipment may actually deter military adventurism of the sort the US has pursued in Iraq (and of which Gates has himself been critical).
It is the US that needs and has needed NATO, in e.g. Afghanistan, not the other way around. The limited and likely short-term Libya intervention is mainly an Anglo-French initiative, and those two have a history of small wars in the global South, and they’ll be fine without a leading role for the US.
Gates’s lambasting of France, Britain and a few other NATO members for the slow progress in the Libya war is unfair. They have had major successes in protecting Benghazi and Misrata, both of which would have fallen without their intervention. Air power cannot take or hold territory, and the untrained and amateurish Free Libya forces are not in a position to just march into the capital of Tripoli. The US Air Force’s ‘shock and awe’ campaign in Iraq also failed to produce any tangible results, and it was only a land invasion that allowed the US to depose Saddam Hussein quickly. A purely air campaign in Iraq would have allowed the Baathists to hold out for months or maybe even years.
NATO appears to have declined to provide the Free Libya forces with heavy weaponry, which is probably a wise decision. In contrast, the US had great success in overthrowing the Taliban in fall of 2001 by giving close air support to the Northern Alliance; but this quick campaign and the installation of Tajik warlords in power contributed to the Taliban resurgence we are now seeing. NATO commanders no doubt wish they could achieve faster progress in protecting Libyans from the brutal Qaddafi regime, but it is better that things go slowly than that a quick victory by the rebels produces reprisals and feuds that destabilize the country into the future.
The US is is peculiar among industrialized democracies in the massive war budget it passes every year, and in its constant war-making. There is every reason to think that the bloated Pentagon budget actually drags the US into wars. Much of the money is given out to private contractors, who use it to lobby Congress for wars whereby the contractors can make more money. And, having a lot of shiny new military toys creates an impetus to use them before they become outmoded and the comparative advantage that they bestow is lost.
The German economy is doing rather better than that of the US, suggesting that a bloated military budget doesn’t make a country better off. The same could be said of the Chinese.
Getting altogether out of Iraq and quickly winding down the Afghanistan War would allow the US to start moving in a modern, European, direction, toward a smaller military budget and less reliance on land wars as policy tools. Gates himself said that the next president who considered launching a land war in Asia should have his head examined. What Gates does not understand is that the degree of militarization he is demanding of the Europeans, and which already characterizes the US, is what leads to such ruinous adventures. It is the US that needs to change, not Europe.