May 18, 2010 3:00 am
Nato yesterday warned member governments against making deep cuts in national defence budgets, insisting the 28-nation alliance must reverse the decline in military spending if it is to meet looming security threats.
As the alliance unveiled a draft document setting out a long-term vision for the alliance, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato's secretary general, warned that excessive cuts in defence budgets risked undermining global security in the years ahead.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Rasmussen said he understood the pressure on defence spending affecting a number of countries such as the UK. "As a former prime minister [of Denmark], I know how, when you have to cut welfare programmes, it is very hard to exclude your defence programme from such cuts."
But he added: "If you make cuts that are too deep in defence spending, you affect long-term security. And we know that insecurity and instability will not merely hamper economic development, travel and trade but they will increase the cost of internal security even more."
Mr Rasmussen's comments came as he received a report from a group of experts that has drawn up a draft "strategic concept" for Nato, one designed to help the alliance define the challenges it will meet in the 21st century.
The committee of experts, headed by Madeleine Albright, former US secretary of state, underlined the need for Nato members to maintain defence spending if the alliance is to continue its effort in Afghanistan and deal with threats from terrorism and cyberwarfare. "If Nato is to fulfil these . . . missions successfully, it must halt the precipitous decline in national defence spending, implement new reforms and efficiencies, and set priorities for future capabilities," said the experts in the report.
The report set out a vision for Nato that sought to balance its role as an expeditionary alliance while defending members' home territory. Ms Albright told the FT: "Nato needs to be versatile and agile at a time of unpredictability."
One of the main conclusions was that Nato must develop a comprehensive missile defence system that could protect the alliance's total population of 900m. Nato believes a viable missile defence programme can be created by tying together existing efforts being made by the US and some European member states.
Mr Rasmussen welcomed the conclusion on missile defence, saying the creation of a common system would underpin the relationship between Europe and the US. "We calculate that the cost of connecting these systems would be less than €200m ($247m, £256m) over 10 years between 28 allies," he said. "It's next to nothing."
Another conclusion is that Nato must retain US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe "as long as nuclear weapons exist". A number of EU states, notably Germany, had suggested that the US withdraw tactical nuclear forces, saying they were no longer needed to guarantee security.
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