NATO chief warns Europe over defence cuts

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NATO's chief chided European governments Friday over their shrinking military budgets, warning that it would leave Europe weaker in a fast-moving world marked by turmoil in the Arab world.

Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen cautioned that a dramatic reduction in defence spending would seriously diminish Europe's ability to respond to crises and risked alienating the United States.

"As I speak, fast-moving events are unfolding in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa," Rasmussen told the Munich Security Conference, an annual meeting of leaders in the defence field.

"The outcome of this turmoil remains unclear, its long-term consequences unpredictable. But one thing we know: old certainties no longer hold, tectonic plates are shifting," he said.

The Arab world has been rocked by popular revolts in recent weeks that have led to the ouster of Tunisia's autocratic leader, shaken the 30-year rule of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and prompted government shake-ups in Jordan and Yemen.

"At stake today is not just the world economy, but the world order. So why, now of all times, should Europe conclude that it no longer needs to invest in defence?"

The United States accounted for just under half of NATO's total defence spending 10 years ago, but the country's share has grown to 75 percent today, the head of the 28-nation alliance said.

He encouraged Europeans to make better use of their money as well as pool and share military capabilities in a time of austerity across the continent -- a strategy he defined as "smart defence."

Defence spending by NATO's European members has decreased by 45 billion euros over the past two years, the equivalent of Germany's entire annual budget, Rasmussen said.

Citing a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, he noted that China tripled its defence spending over the past decade while in India it increased by almost 60 percent.

"We risk a Europe increasingly adrift from the United States," he said. "If Europe becomes unable to make an appropriate contribution to global security, then the United States might look elsewhere for reliable defence partners."

© 2011 AFP

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