Europe will be a “paper tiger” in military terms unless it reverses the decline in its defensive capabilities, NATO’s chief warned on 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.
But shrinking defence 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 two percent of their GDP to defence.
America’s latest defence 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,” Mr. Fogh Rasmussen told a conference on trans—Atlantic security in Brussels.
“The Lisbon Treaty provides the EU with a stronger defence 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 U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is leading a group of experts drafting NATO’s new mission statement, said that despite the gap in defence spending the Europeans have done their share in missions such as Afghanistan.
When we look into defence 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.
Mr. Fogh Rasmussen said another way the Europeans could demonstrate their commitment to defence 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 U.S. has a missile defence system in North America, and it is planning one for NATO allies based on the Patriot air defence missile.
“Missile defence may be one specific area where Europeans can demonstrate that commitment and to demonstrate to the American public that NATO is indeed relevant,” Mr. Fogh Rasmussen said. He said a decision on missile defence needed to be taken at NATO’s next summit in November.