NATO chief warns members against defence cuts: report
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has warned the military alliance's members against drastically cutting defence budgets while battling huge deficits, in comments published on Thursday.
Rasmussen accepted spending on armed forces would come under pressure as cash-strapped countries within the group introduce measures to reduce their debts amid the eurozone debt crisis.
But, in comments to the Times daily, he said lower defence spending could threaten international stability and limit growth prospects.
"All governments should be aware of the long-term impact of too deep cuts in defence budgets because we know from experience that economic growth is very much dependent on a secure international environment," he said.
"We know that instability and insecurity hamper economic growth. So if we make too deep cuts in defence budgets it might have a long-term negative impact on economic growth."
His comments came after a string of NATO members drew up battle plans this week to attack budget deficits, amid fears that Greece's debt crisis could spread through Europe.
Britain, France, Italy and Denmark attacked public spending and pay, joining a European offensive to shore up market confidence. Greece and Portugal -- also NATO members -- had already announced draconian action.
Speaking at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Rasmussen said it was inevitable defence spending would be hit.
"It is very hard for governments to argue that they make deep cuts in social programmes, educational programmes, and pensions but not in defence budgets.
"So, obviously, defence budgets will be affected by the economic crisis."
Turning to Afghanistan, where a NATO-led mission is battling a fierce Taliban insurgency, he said handing security to the country's forces could provide a much-needed boost.
"It would be the light at the end of the tunnel if we could hand over the lead responsibility for security in some provinces and some major cities," he said.
And the NATO chief conceded that Afghanistan was a test for the alliance to prove it was relevant in the post-Cold War era.
"NATO is about much more than just Afghanistan, but Afghanistan is a test case as to whether NATO is capable to address the new security challenges of the 21st century," Rasmussen said.
© 2010 AFP