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Gates: NATO spending decline 'serious problem'
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) June 15, 2011

The decline in defense spending by NATO-member countries is a "serious problem" that could eventually force the United States to move away from the alliance, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.

Reiterating a critique of NATO Gates first made in Brussels earlier this month, Gates told members of a Senate panel that US military spending has now gone from half of the military budget of NATO's 28 member countries to three-quarters.

"The reality is that, as they cut their defense budgets, and... have not been investing in their defense capabilities for a number of years, by default the additional burden falls on the United States," Gates said.

"So I think this is a serious problem," he said.

"But I think our own financial difficulties and what we're now going to face in looking at the American defense budget brings this issue to center stage in a way that it really has not been in the past."

Gates told members of the panel that "frankly, a growing number of members of Congress... for whom the Cold War and our connection to Europe and to NATO are not in their genes as... they are for me, are going to be unwilling to pick up 75 percent of the defense burden of the NATO alliance."

Still, Gates noted that a NATO with "reduced capabilities" was better than "no NATO at all."

Gates first warned NATO members about finances in a June 10 speech to a Brussels-based think tank.

"The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country -- yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the US, once more, to make up the difference," Gates told the Brussels' audience.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the panel Wednesday that NATO participation in Libya and Afghanistan could lead certain NATO countries to rethink their strategy of cutting their military budgets in light of the "reality" of combat.

"Countries who recently did their own strategic review, they found themselves getting rid of capabilities that now that they're in a combat environment they're giving second thought to that," said Mullen.

"Combat has a way of bringing that kind of reality to them."

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