NATO: Europe must upgrade defenses

Rasmussen warns dwindling defense budgets are causing a growing discrepancy in military capabilities between the United States and Europe's NATO members.

March 27, 2010 15:36
2 minute read.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

anders rasmussen 311. (photo credit: AP)


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BRUSSELS — Europe will be a "paper tiger" in military terms unless it reverses the decline in its defensive capabilities, NATO's chief warned Saturday.

The alliance's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, emphasized that the European allies are pulling their weight in the war in Afghanistan, where they account for 40 percent of NATO's 120,000-strong expeditionary force.

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But shrinking defense budgets during the economic downturn are causing a growing discrepancy in military capabilities between the United States and Europe's NATO members, he said. Most European nations are not even meeting the minimal requirement of devoting 2 percent of their GDP to defense.

America's latest defense budget of over $710 billion dwarfs the combined military annual expenditures of its European allies, which total about $280 billion. Despite the added expenses of the Afghan war, many European capitals are planning further cuts or freezing their current outlays.

Analysts have noted that the discrepancies could cause falling public support for the alliance in the United States.

"The Europeans should not take this strong relationship for granted," Fogh Rasmussen told a conference on trans-Atlantic security in Brussels.

"The Lisbon Treaty provides the EU with a stronger defense capability ... but this will remain a paper tiger if it is not followed by concrete contributions when we need concrete military contributions," he said.

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is leading a group of experts drafting NATO's new mission statement, said that despite the gap in defense spending the Europeans have done their share in missions such as Afghanistan.

When we look into defense spending, then obviously there's a gap. ... But when it comes to political commitment I think we are witnessing a very strong European determination to share the burden," she said.

Fogh Rasmussen said another way the Europeans could demonstrate their commitment to defense was to develop and deploy an anti-missile system for the continent. He cited the growing threat of Iranian medium-range missiles, which he said can already reach Europe and parts of Russia.

The US has a missile defense system in North America, and it is planning one for NATO allies based on the Patriot air defense missile.

"Missile defense may be one specific area where Europeans can demonstrate that commitment and to demonstrate to the American public that NATO is indeed relevant," Fogh Rasmussen said. He said a decision on missile defense needed to be taken at NATO's next summit in November.

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