NATO's secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen has urged Europe to increase its military budget. He made his warning in Madrid where he declared that the disparity NATO spending between the US and Europe would lead to two-tiered alliance as a result of which the Americans and Europeans might no longer be able to collaborate. Rasmussen stressed that the growing gulf in defence funding is also leading to a technology gap that will make joint operations increasing difficult. The NATO chief suggested that member nations both increase their defence budgets and bring themselves into line with American military assets and equipment.
The war in Libya, he continued, has revealed serious deficiencies on the part of the Europeans. In fact, they quickly began running short of munitions against a poorly-armed regime and the Americans had had to step in with supplies. "If current trends in the decline of European defence capabilities are not halted and reversed, future US political leaders may not consider the return on America's investment in Nato worth the cost," the NATO chief added. This stark rebuke to the European nations comes just three months after the beginning of a military invention in Libya that has demanded an unexpected and extended involvement by the NATO members. Rasmussen says the fact that just eight members are conducting the air strikes is a worrying sign: "If we want to ensure the long term sustainability of the operation, we have to broaden support".
Ten years ago, the United States provided half of the entire NATO budget. Today, that figures stands at 75 per cent. Hence the impatience at Europe not doing enough. "The American people are quite legitimately asking why they have to bear the heavy burden of ensuring international peace and stability. The US Defence Secretary's message is clear: nations benefiting from NATO must also shoulder the burden of cost. I share that message."
In an interview with the BBC, Rasmussen said he was "exasperated" by the fact that just four European nations are spending the amounts on their defence budgets that NATO requires to sustain its operations internationally - 2 per cent of their GDP. Those countries are France, Great Britain and - rather surprisingly - Albania and Greece. After the 10 per cent cut made to the Italian defence budget in 2010, our contribution in this country amounts to 1.75 per cento of GDP.
Translated by Mary Hegarty