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NATO must invest in defense to counter Russia: US
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 02, 2014

Canada sends a platoon to Poland
Ottawa (AFP) May 02, 2014 - Canada sent a platoon to Poland on Friday to reassure NATO allies in Eastern Europe concerned about rising tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the approximately 50 soldiers are to take part in US-led military exercises in Swidwin, about 500 kilometers northwest of Warsaw, from May 5 to 9.

"They will conduct training in parachuting, airborne operations and infantry skills alongside Polish and American counterparts in this United States-led exercise with a view to enhancing alliance interoperability and readiness," said a statement.

The deployment comes after Ottawa sent a warship and six fighter jets to the region, as part of NATO's efforts to step up its defenses in Eastern Europe due to the growing crisis.

NATO ships arrive in Lithuania amid Ukraine tensions
Vilnius, Lithuania (AFP) May 02, 2014 - Five NATO ships arrived Friday in Lithuania's port of Klaipeda to bolster defence in the Baltic region amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine, the country's defence ministry said.

At a ceremony in Klaipeda, Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas welcomed the ships -- four minesweepers and a support vessel from Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium and Estonia -- as NATO seeks to reassure jittery member states.

"The arrival of NATO ships is yet another sign of NATO unity and solidarity," Olekas told AFP by phone after the ceremony in the western port city.

He called NATO's increased presence a "deterrence measure" against Russia, which has an estimated 40,000 troops massed on Ukraine's eastern border.

NATO deployed the naval group to the Baltic Sea last week, saying it was a sign of "the alliance's commitment to the safety and security of the Baltic member states".

Lithuania's defence ministry said the NATO ships would also visit other Baltic ports and participate in a mine-hunting operation in neighbouring Latvia later this month.

About 600 US troops have been sent to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland in recent weeks, while Britain, Denmark and France have sent extra fighter jets.

On Friday, British Defence Minister Philip Hammond visited his troops at Lithuania's Siauliai air base, after a first stop in Estonia where Britain sent 90 troops for military drills.

"This is a reaffirmation of our commitment to NATO and a reminder that NATO is based on a commitment by each member state to the others to come to their aid," Hammond told reporters in front one of the four British Typhoons deployed to Lithuania.

He added that NATO will "keep under review" its presence in Eastern Europe but insisted that the alliance will do so by "not crossing the line into provocation".

Russian actions in Ukraine have rattled nerves in the Baltic states, which were occupied and annexed by Moscow during World War II.

The three countries -- Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia -- broke free from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991 and joined both the European Union and NATO in 2004.

Russia is trying to test NATO's mettle and members of the transatlantic alliance must bolster military spending in the face of Moscow's challenge, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Friday.

The 28 members of NATO have responded to Russia's intervention in Ukraine with "resolve," Hagel said, "but over the long term, we should expect Russia to test our alliance's purpose, stamina and commitment."

Russia's annexation of Crimea and its backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine "has reminded NATO of its founding purpose," he said.

After the Cold War, the alliance had looked to forge a partnership with its old adversary.

But after Moscow's moves in Ukraine, "NATO must stand ready to revisit the basic principles underlying its relationship with Russia," he said.

Hagel's press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby, declined to describe Russia as an "enemy" of the United States.

NATO's deputy secretary general, US diplomat Alexander Vershbow, however said Thursday that Moscow had be to seen as "more of an adversary than a partner."

- Crucial choice -

In his speech, Hagel told an audience at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington that the alliance faced a crucial choice in light of Russia's assertive stance in Ukraine -- to stand firm or to retreat.

"Future generations will note whether... at this moment of challenge, we summoned the will to invest in our alliance," he warned.

"We must not squander this opportunity or shrink from this challenge. We will be judged harshly by history... if we do."

Hagel issued an appeal for NATO allies to spend more on their armies but stopped short of calling for more dramatic steps.

The Pentagon chief did not urge an expansion of the US military presence on the continent, nor did he warn of any permanent deployment of alliance troops in NATO states in Eastern Europe.

Senior US officials and commanders have voiced concern for years that European partners are failing to make necessary investments in defense and allowing their military power to erode.

Former defense secretary Robert Gates warned in 2011 that the steady decline in defense budgets in Europe raised the "very real possibility of collective military irrelevance."

To break what the "fiscal impasse," Hagel urged finance ministers and senior budget officials to attend a future NATO meeting of defense ministers on military spending.

"This would allow them to receive detailed briefings from alliance military leaders on the challenges we face," he said.

The aim was to help make the case for higher defense spending to senior decisionmakers in European capitals.

"Leaders across our governments must understand the consequences of current trends in reduced defense spending,"Hagel said.

While smaller NATO members in Eastern Europe are increasing military spending, Hagel said, larger member states must do the same, "particularly as transatlantic economies grow stronger."

The United States accounts for close to three-quarters of defense spending among all NATO member states.

Apart from the United States, only Estonia, Greece and Britain have defense budgets of at least two percent of GDP, a NATO requirement that other members fail to meet.

"Today, America's GDP is smaller than the combined GDPs of our 27 NATO Allies, but America's defense spending is three times our allies' combined defense spending," Hagel said.

Along with raising military spending, Hagel said the United States and its European allies needed to invest in "energy security" to "blunt Russia's coercive energy policies."

By the end of the decade, Europe should be able to reduce its natural gas imports from Russia by more than 25 percent, he said, partly with the help of growing US gas supplies.


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