Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates blasted NATO for failing to live up to its defense commitments and questioned the livelihood of the alliance in 2011.
Gates’ rhetoric was remarkably similar to that repeatedly employed by President Donald Trump in recent speeches, and throughout the 2016 campaign. Gates told NATO it had a “a dim if not dismal future” if member nations did not increase their defense spending.
He continued to lambast the alliance saying, “The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large — to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”
Gates’ comments seem to have to come to life in Trump’s criticism of the alliance. Trump called parts of NATO “obsolete” days before taking office to a German publication, and doubled down on his call for alliance members to up their defense spending at a visit to U.S. Central Command Monday.
Trump also raised the matter of defense spending, along with NATO cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State, to NATO General Secretary Jans Stoltenberg in a call Sunday. The alliance targets defense spending for countries at 2 percent of a member nation’s GDP. More than 20 countries in the alliance flout this defense spending target.
Stoltenberg did indicate Friday that NATO would begin training some Iraqi troops in the anti-ISIS mission, but with highly limited resources.
“I think the distribution of costs has to be changed. I think NATO as a concept is good, but it is not as good as it was when it first evolved,” Trump told The Washington Post in March 2016. Trump doubled down in a CNN interview the same day, saying, “frankly they have to put up more money. They’re going to have to put some up also. We’re paying disproportionately. It’s too much. And frankly it’s a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea.”
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