Steve Chapman

The attempt is not working well. NATO endured partly because for decades, it never had to go to war. Once it did, in Afghanistan, it was exposed as flimsy and unreliable.

In 2007, Gates accused our European pals of shirking their duty against the Taliban. He reiterated his gripe in 2008. In 2009, more of the same.

How much good did all this grousing do? The other day, on Capitol Hill, Gates called the European contribution to training Afghan security forces "a joke."

Libya is more proof of the futility of trying to rouse equal motivation among 28 different countries. It confirms that the alliance has become an obsolete luxury.

Our insistence on preserving it anyway means we have to take an oversized role, which frees our partners of the need to attend to their own defense. Only five NATO governments spend more than 2 percent of their gross domestic product on the military -- while the U.S. shells out 5 percent.

The defense secretary fumes that too many countries "enjoy the benefits of membership" but "don't want to share the risks and costs." Of course they do. If you let people join a nice club without paying dues, how many would turn it down? And if you later asked them to mop the floors, how many would grab a bucket?

Our allies are behaving rationally, and we keep wondering why. Gates may enjoy continually pounding his head against a brick wall. But the rest of us might find it feels really good to stop.

Steve Chapman blogs daily at


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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