NATO allies were warned against slashing defense outlays and urged to buy weapons jointly to prevent the economic crisis from undermining trans-Atlantic security.
Military budgets shouldn’t be sacrificed as European governments cut spending after pledging 860 billion euros ($1.1 trillion) in loans to contain Greece’s debt woes, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
“This is about much more than just money: it’s also about security,” Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels today after the presentation of a draft overhaul of allied strategy. “Too deep cuts at the expense of future security may also have damaging economic implications.”
Only five of the then 26 North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries met a target of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense in 2008 at the onset of the deepest recession since the alliance was founded in 1949. One of them, Greece, is now flirting with a potential default.
Rasmussen called for more pooling of funds on projects like the timesharing program in which 12 countries operate three Boeing Co. C-17 military transport jets from an airbase in Hungary.
“If we pool resources together, then economies of scale will make sure that we make more efficient use of our money,” Rasmussen said.
NATO’s leader voiced the financial warning after a panel led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said the alliance needs to strengthen global partnerships and maintain a nuclear deterrent in order to meet increasingly unconventional threats.
Now uniting 28 countries, NATO needs to consolidate the defense of its home territory while improving its readiness for “dynamic engagement” in war zones like Afghanistan, the panel said.
“NATO cannot let the 21st century dangers divide leaders and weaken our collective resolve,” Albright told reporters. “The alliance in the 21st century has to be agile and flexible in a time of unpredictability.”
The strategic rethink is NATO’s first since 1999, just after the U.S.-led alliance launched its first out-of-area mission by ejecting Serbia’s forces from Kosovo and before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks drew it into Afghanistan.
The bulk of the recommendations reflected current NATO policies, such as the call for a missile defense system and outreach to Russia while reassuring its Cold War-era satellites in eastern Europe that their security isn’t under threat.
Alliance leaders will complete the new mission statement at a summit in Lisbon in November.
On the nuclear question, Albright’s 12-person panel urged maintaining a deterrent “at the minimum level required by the prevailing security environment.” Some European governments have pushed for the withdrawal of the remaining U.S. nuclear weapons from European soil.
The experts also called on NATO to remain open to further expansion and establish stronger ties with countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Albright didn’t rule out a NATO role in policing a future peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, “if there were a peace to keep in the Middle East.”