On Friday, outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued a stern rebuke to NATO as European countries fail to live up to defense commitments and pull their weight in the partnership. His remarks came against the backdrop of NATO states ending their commitment to the multilateral mission in Libya, either forcing the United States to pick up the pieces or to let Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi reconsolidate control.
In the early years of the Iraq conflict, Gates’ predecessor Donald Rumsfeld was pilloried by diplomats and the press for differentiating between Old Europe (America’s traditional allies in Western Europe) and New Europe, those states freed from the Iron Curtain which did not take principles like liberty and freedom for granted.
Alas, it seems Gates would do well to be a bit less polite. I spent several days last week in Brasov, Romania, headquarters of the 2nd Romanian Mountain Brigade, who hosted the Romanian Land Forces Seminar on Afghanistan. The Romanians are about to send more troops into Afghanistan’s troubled Zabul province. This is no symbolic mission to simply put a few boots on the ground: While contingents like the Germans and Italians bend over backwards to do as little substantive as possible, and even then do it poorly, the Romanians are pulling more than their weight. The Romanian officers were smart, enthusiastic and serious. Not only are the Romanians assisting the United States in Afghanistan, but they are positioning themselves to play an increasing integral role in NATO. While countries like Turkey pull away from the West and with myriad restrictions making military cooperation with the Turks increasingly onerous, Romania is expanding its basing and welcoming a larger American presence.
Gates is right to lament Old Europe’s lackluster commitment to defense, but he should not hesitate to praise Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic. Together, they show what friendship and alliance should really mean.