Tallinn 27 May 2012 - NATO LAWMAKERS: SMART DEFENCE ESSENTIAL TO MAINTAINING ALLIANCE SECURITY THROUGH TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES
Europe’s economic crisis loomed large at the Spring Session of NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly on Sunday with legislators warning shrinking defence budgets will undermine the Alliance’s ability to confront today’s diverse array of security threats unless governments make good on promises to develop a “smart defence” policy that maximizes military assets.
“The Alliance for several years has been seeing a clear deterioration of its capabilities. The economic and financial crisis has only aggravated this,” said French Senator Xavier Pintat. “There is a risk of unilateral disarmament by default.”
The commitment of NATO leaders at last week’s Alliance summit in Chicago to move ahead with “smart defence” by better coordination of military planning; pooling and sharing equipment; and the development of national specializations to avoid costly duplication of assets was broadly welcomed by delegates at the Assembly.
But governments were warned they must follow through on pledges to make the difficult political choices needed to turn the “smart defence” concept into reality. “Chicago was not the destination, but rather the launching pad,” said Col. Andrew Budd, of NATO’s Smart Defence Direct Support Team. “Implementing smart defence is going to be demanding and it must be underpinned by strong political will.”
The pressure on European military budgets was underscored in a draft report presented to the NATO PA’s Defence and Security Committee which showed that, at best, only eight of the 28 NATO members meet the Alliance’s agreed military spending target of 2 percent of gross domestic product. In real terms, over half of the allies spend less on defence than they did four years ago, and the US share of NATO military expenditure has increased from 63 percent to 77 percent over the past decade, said the report authored by French lawmaker Nicole Ameline.
Lawmakers from both sides of the Atlantic expressed concern that the gap between US and European defence spending risked undermining the foundations of the Alliance. “Is Europe aware that it is losing the debate in the United States?” asked US Congressman Michael Turner, who warned of growing sentiment among lawmakers and the American public in support of a withdrawal from Europe.
Given the budgetary constraints faced by European Allies, several parliamentarians recognized that “smart defence” is the only way to maintain military capacities in Europe. “The economic and financial crisis we are going through now risks a downward spiral of budget cuts which would have deep and irreversible consequences,” said Pintat. “What is at stake here is the continuity and credibility of our Alliance.”
The wider impact of the euro-zone crisis was debated in the Assembly’s Economic and Security Committee, with warnings of grave implications for the global economy and international security. “The crisis has left its mark on every member of this Alliance,” said a draft report drawn up by John Sewel, of the United Kingdom. “It is altering the relationship between North America and Europe broadly, and is now having a profound impact on relations among European nations.”