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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates gives a press conference on June 11, 2010 after the second day of a NATO defense ministers meeting at organization headquaters in Brussels. - 

Tess Vigeland: Defense Secretary Robert Gates is on a worldwide farewell tour before his retirement at the end of the month, and he's not fading softly into the background. During a speech today in Brussels, Gates fired off a warning about scarce financial support from Europe for NATO. Without more money, he said, the alliance faces a dim future and risks "military irrelevance."

Marketplace's John Dimsdale has more from Washington.

John Dimsdale: Secretary Gates said NATO's air war against Libya's Muammar Gaddafi has exposed just how poor the North Atlantic Alliance has become. Instead of the anticipated 300 flights a day over Libya, NATO is struggling to launch 150.

Robert Gates: Furthermore, 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. to once more make up the difference.

Gates warned that, with its own financial woes, the U.S. has little appetite for keeping up its nearly 75 percent share of NATO's budget. He said only five of the 28 allies are spending the minimum required by NATO for military readiness.

Heather Conley: He certainly was extremely blunt. I'd call it a verbal shock and awe.

Heather Conley at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says Europe's military spending has been falling for 10 years.

Conley: The impact of the European sovereign debt crisis is really starting to put into stark contrast: is it debt or defense? I wouldn't be surprised if you're going to hear some of those echoes in our own debate here in Washington.

Gates did praise oil-rich Norway for contributing more than its share for the Libyan air strikes. But the Oslo government today cut back the number of its F-16s over Libya and said it would pull out entirely by August 1st.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.