NATO’s top official is raising concerns about the way some members are responding to tough economic times, saying they could be compromising their safety.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned the reduction in defense spending is a matter of concern.
“My appeal to governments is, firstly, hold the line, stop the cuts. Secondly, make more efficient use of the resources you do have, through more multinational cooperation. And thirdly, once the economies recover, start to increase defense investments again,” he said.
Rasmussen spoke in Brussels on Thursday, February 21, before a NATO defense ministers meeting.
Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is in Brussels for the meeting and is expected to warn NATO members that Washington’s own fiscal issues could have an impact on the ability of the alliance to respond to a crisis.
The United States military is facing a series of deep, automatic budget cuts - totaling $46 billion over the next seven months - unless President Barack Obama and lawmakers can come to an agreement by March 1. And Panetta has warned of “serious disruptions” and of a “sharp decline” in military readiness if the cuts go into effect.
The United States has long been urging other NATO members to pay a larger share of the costs for mutual defense. The United States is just one of a very few alliance members that spends more than two percent of its gross domestic product on defense.
Like the U.S., Britain is also cutting back on defense spending. British Defense Minister Philip Hammond said Thursday many NATO members have little choice but to accept the new economic realities.
“The right thing to do is to focus now on maximum value for money, proper prioritization, and proper deployability of the forces that we do have with the commitment, when the economies across Europe improve, and our fiscal positions are better, to increase defense expending again towards the NATO commitment,’’ said Hammond.
Following consultations Thursday, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said members have agreed on the need to pool more of their resources.
He said members also agreed on the need for more training and joint exercises with Afghan forces through 2020.
One proposal under consideration calls for NATO to continue funding an Afghan security force of 352,000 troops through 2018. Current plans call for Afghan forces to be reduced by one-third.