Hagel Urges European NATO Members to Boost Defense Budgets

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WASHINGTON, June 4, 2014 – NATO European allies must dedicate more money to defense spending, and all are ready to do their part in the follow-on operation in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at NATO headquarters in Brussels today.

The secretary spoke at a news conference after meetings with alliance defense ministers.

Russia’s actions in and around Ukraine were a major concern for the ministers, Hagel said, adding that Russia’s actions “constitute the most significant and direct challenge to European security since the end of the Cold War.”

The NATO allies agreed they must continue to uphold the credibility of the alliance, and the credibility of the international order that European security has anchored for seven decades.

“To date, NATO has acted with strength and resolve,” Hagel said. “All 28 NATO allies have contributed to NATO’s reassurance measures in Central and Eastern Europe, ranging from new joint exercises to an enhanced air, ground, and sea presence. And we are exploring ways to do more.”

The United States will continue to do its part, Hagel said, and he referenced the $1 billion European Reassurance Initiative that President Barack Obama announced yesterday. “This initiative will enable the United States to help maintain the readiness of allied forces, and expand our reassurance measures throughout Central and Eastern Europe,” the secretary said.

Hagel told the ministers that the United States will review its force presence in Europe. “In light of the new regional security environment,” he added, “it would be irresponsible for us not to.”

Money remains a problem, Hagel said, noting that the allies discussed Europe’s declining defense budgets. This decline means the United States has shouldered a more and more disproportionate share of the alliance’s burden, he said.

“Over the long term, current spending trends threaten NATO’s integrity and capabilities,” the secretary said.

The American commitment should be matched by renewed European resolve to invest in its own defense, Hagel said, calling on the allies to issue a definitive declaration to reverse current trends and rebalance the alliance’s burden-sharing. The NATO summit scheduled in Wales in September would be the best place to make this declaration, he added.

Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania have committed to spend more. Poland and the Czech Republic announced new commitments to increase their defense spending. NATO’s goal is for member states to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

The ministers also discussed Afghanistan, Hagel said, adding that he was able to provide the details of Obama’s decision last week to maintain a limited military presence there after the current International Security Assistance Force mission concludes at the end of the year. The United States will provide 9,800 service members for Operation Resolute Support, provided the new Afghan president signs the bilateral security agreement.

“My discussions today with ISAF defense ministers underscored that our allies and partners remain committed to Afghanistan’s long-term security, and to the pledges made at the Chicago Summit two years ago,” Hagel said.

The defense ministers also agreed that the alliance must be prepared for the full spectrum of missions, including those against sophisticated adversaries with advanced technologies, and against new, asymmetric threats. “We need capabilities that balance NATO’s three core tasks: collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security,” he said.

Hagel also participated in the NATO-Ukraine and NATO-Georgia Commissions. “We welcomed Russia’s recognition of Ukraine’s recent election results as a step in the right direction,” he said, “but we will continue to stand united against Russia’s aggression in Crimea, and its destabilizing actions in Eastern Ukraine.

“I outlined American assistance for political and economic reform, and our nonlethal assistance to Ukraine’s armed forces and border guard,” he continued. “The United States has already offered $18 million in nonlethal security assistance to Ukraine, and today, President Obama announced another $5 million for the purchase of body armor and other equipment, bringing our total security assistance to $23 million.”

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