NATO Taking Ax to Defense Budget

NATO Taking Ax to Defense Budget
# 11 June 2010 00:47 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. As indebted governments look to cut spending during the global financial crisis, one of the world’s most overstretched military institutions is undergoing similarly agonizing reviews while demands grow in important operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo, APA reports quoting The New York Times.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has disbanded more than 80 committees, some dating from the Cold War, to demonstrate that it can deploy its resources more efficiently since Anders Fogh Rasmussen took over as secretary general nearly a year ago.
The organization also has pledged to postpone some projects as part of efforts to save about $1.5 billion over the coming years.
But as defense ministers from the organization’s 28 member countries and allies began two days of meetings in Brussels on Thursday, they faced mounting pressure from their governments to tighten expenses further, both at NATO headquarters and across other operations after funding for the 2010 budget fell short by about $600 million.
Last month, NATO governments agreed to inject funds necessary to meet the shortfall — caused mostly by the rising costs of operations in Afghanistan — after significantly trimming what they expected to be able to spend. But now governments are anticipating an even greater shortfall in the 2011 budget and are pushing for more savings.
“The bottom line is this: There will be less money for defense for quite some time — that’s the way it is,” Mr. Rasmussen said at a news conference Thursday after meeting with the military alliance’s defense ministers.
To be sure, the cost of NATO operations is a drop in the bucket compared with the overall military expenses by member nations, and a top priority for Mr. Rasmussen and U.S. officials has been seeking to persuade NATO member countries not to cut their defense budgets too deeply.
Even so, the ax is falling on defense spending across Europe, with Britain soon to undertake a spending review and with Germany having already detailed sweeping cuts.
On Thursday, NATO issued figures showing that only five members — Albania, France, Greece, Britain and the United States — had met a common pledge to devote at least 2 percent of their gross domestic products to the military in 2009.
At the same time, NATO is scrambling to provide forces with the equipment and infrastructure they need.
On Thursday, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, warned that efforts in Kandahar to drive back the Taliban were likely to take significantly longer than planned, raising new questions about what can be achieved in southern Afghanistan before the end of the year.
Mr. Rasmussen also warned that the violence in Afghanistan would increase as the military alliance’s troops step up engagement within “the Taliban heartland in Helmand and in Kandahar.” Mr. Rasmussen said he foresaw “a very tough time in the coming weeks and months.”
That is likely to lead to more combat deaths and to test the patience of citizens in countries like the United States and Britain, which are contributing the most troops to the effort. It also is likely to create new financial demands.
Deaths of troops soared to record levels in Afghanistan, NATO officials acknowledged on Thursday.
The two-day meeting in Brussels is intended to pave the way for the alliance’s summit meeting in November in Lisbon.
That Lisbon meeting is supposed to be held to agree on a so-called strategic concept for the organization as it faces new threats far from Europe, long the organization’s main focus during the Cold War, when war between the Soviet Union and Western allies loomed large.
In reality, the meeting this week may end up accelerating an overhaul of a massive military bureaucracy of around 2,000 staff in aging buildings on the outskirts of Brussels, with additional staff in command centers across Europe and the United States and in the field, including Afghanistan.
Mr. Rasmussen acknowledged a need to “cut fat” in a news conference Thursday, and he reiterated that he had identified savings of $1.5 billion that could made in coming years. He also vowed to reduce the number of committees to 100, down from about 430 a year ago.
And in another nod to the cash-strapped times, he stressed the affordability of a proposed missile system that would aim at protecting populations and territory rather than just protecting troops in the field, as is currently the case.
He said such a system represented exceptional value because it would provide protection for around 900 million people at a cost of an additional $200 million, shared by 28 nations over 10 years, and would do so at a time when the threat of a missile attack on Europe from Iran was a growing concern.