“The demilitarization of Europe — where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.”
Gates went on to warn that the perception of European weakness could provide a “temptation to miscalculation and aggression” by hostile powers. These comments of course come on the heels of what appears to be a Dutch troop retreat from Afghanistan in the coming year. Gates went on to say that financial and man power shortcomings by many NATO members was “directly impacting operations” in Afghanistan. Also noted by Gates in his address, was the fact that only 5 of the 28 NATO members have reached the established target: 2 percent of gross domestic product for defense spending. Polls have shown a growing gulf between how Americans and Europeans see the world, and especially the use of force in international politics.
These are strong statements from a strong leader from NATO’s leading country and should not be taken lightly.
Looking from and IR theory standpoint, we have clear signs of realism and liberalism here. Realists would argue that of course the European states are bandwagoning and letting the United State foot the bill, both in lives and treasure. After all, it appears the Americans are willing to make the sacrifices in Afghanistan no matter the overall NATO commitment. Realists would also not be surprised to see Secretary Gates lament this situation. This current predicament also has strong IR liberal ties. To a certain extent, America’s European NATO partners live in a post-realist world, where international law, globalization of economic goods, technology, and ideas, and a greater emphasis on diplomacy are much more effective tools in fomenting world peace and stability. Of course, when one does not have a powerful military, promoting these facets, one’s you are strong in, just makes sense. As Robert Kagan has argued, the US wishes to live in this world with Europe, but is too busy facing a realist world with problems and actors that may require realist tools, such as the use of military force and deterrence. The US believes without the presence of such tools, as Gates states ‘achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st’ may not be possible.