Canada doesn’t want to see a “two-tier” NATO, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Friday, as he gave credence to the grim prognosis of the alliance by his U.S. counterpart Robert Gates.
“I’ve sensed Secretary Gates’ frustration for some time about burden-sharing and the need to have 28 members of the alliance participating more actively and more fully,” MacKay said at the Conservative party’s convention.
MacKay, who just returned from a NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels, added: “I’ve never seen him more adamant, going so far as to name names, and saying ‘look we need some countries to step up.”’
In a blunt exit speech earlier Friday to a Brussels think-tank, Gates said his country’s military alliance with NATO faces a “dim, if not dismal” future.
Gates unleashed one more attack on European members of NATO for relying too much on U.S. military might and not doing enough to support the mission in Afghanistan or the air campaign to protect civilians in Libya.
“Future U.S. political leaders — those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me — may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost,” Gates said.
NATO, formed in 1949 to protect Europe from Soviet Union aggression during the Cold War, has struggled to remain relevant in the two decades since the collapse of the communism.
Afghanistan was its first mission outside its traditional theatre, and has exposed infighting and uneven contributions among its member countries. The alliance’s recent decision to lead the United Nations-approved no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians has also become bogged down amid complaints that some countries are doing more than others.
In Afghanistan, Canada has been lauded by the United States for punching above its weight, and Gates offered the same praise Friday for its contribution to the Libya mission.
But he had harsh words for European efforts in Afghanistan.
“Despite more than two million troops in uniform, not counting the U.S. military, NATO has struggled, at times desperately, to sustain a deployment of 25,000 to 45,000 troops, not just in boots on the ground, but in crucial support assets such as helicopters, transport aircraft, maintenance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and more.”
And he referenced the stresses NATO has encountered in keeping up the pace the air campaign over Libya.
“The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country, yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference,” he said.
It wasn’t the first time Gates has expressed frustration with certain European members of NATO, but it was his most pointed as he steps down at the end of the month as U.S. secretary of defence after more than four years.
MacKay referred to his past public criticism of unidentified European allies that Canada blames for not supporting its fighting efforts in Kandahar, one of Afghanistan’s most violent provinces.
“Burden-sharing is a serious issue … we don’t want to have a two-tier NATO. We want to know that countries are doing their all, participating in a way that is meaningful,” he said.
“Obviously certain countries have more ability to do so. They have more equipment, more forces, more capacity, but we need to encourage countries to ensure that we’re making a global effort.”
Gates singled out Belgium and Canada for making “major contributions” to the Libya mission.
“These countries have, with their constrained resources, found ways to do the training, buy the equipment and field the platforms necessary to make a credible military contribution,” Gates said.
MacKay said NATO is trying to streamline how it undertakes missions outside of its usual “territorial boundaries.”
“So this is a new process when it comes to NATO’s participation in these global conflicts, but it is one that I think Secretary Gates has been adamant about and consistent throughout his time.”
MacKay lauded Gates for his leadership and said he was given an emotional send-off this week’s NATO meeting.