- The Washington Times - Friday, May 2, 2014

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel implored America’s NATO allies to increase their defense amid Russian aggression toward its neighbors and expressed frustration that the United States is disproportionally footing the bill for the organization.

Mr. Hagel said on Friday leaders of NATO’s 28 member-nations “must understand the consequences of current trends in reduced defense spending and help break through the fiscal impasse.” 

Russia’s actions in Ukraine have made NATO’s value abundantly clear,”  he told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

While Mr. Hagel said that he knows, “from my frequent conversations,” that his fellow NATO defense ministers agree. “the reality on the ground in Europe today shows that “talking amongst ourselves is no longer good enough.”

Mr. Hagel first embarked on his quest for increased defense spending when he met with the alliance’s defense ministers in late February, noting in a public speech at the time that U.S. contributions in NATO “remain starkly disproportionate.”

On Friday he pointed to an upcoming NATO ministerial meeting as a key springboard for serious defense budget discussions.

The Washington Times reported in February that funding from the alliance’s top seven European contributors – France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom – dropped by more than 10 percent over the past few years. The seven countries contributed $217 billion to NATO in 2009, but only $195 billion by 2013.

That downward defense spending trend is especially troubling as Russia appears poised to test the alliance’s stamina and commitment, according to Mr. Hagel.

NATO’s ministers will convene in early June in Brussels, Belgium. But the conversation between defense and finance ministers will likely take place at a separate, special meeting, according to Jorge Benitez, an analyst specializing in NATO at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

The Ukraine crisis has brought to a halt efforts by the alliance to improve ties with Moscow.

Deputy NATO Secretary General Alexander Vershbow told reporters in Washington on Thursday that in light of the Ukraine crisis the alliance “will have to view Russia more as an adversary than a partner,” and increase defense budgets as a result. 

NATO has been cautiously increasing its presence in Eastern Europe over the past few months through a series of training exercises that are triple the normal size. 

NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Jay Janzen said the beefed-up exercises are a response to a build-up of Russian military forces on the border of Ukraine.

Mr. Janzen said in an interview that NATO members will spend the next four months policing the Baltic region with four Polish Mig-29 fighter jets, four British Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes and four F-16 fighter jets from Denmark.

The United States led that multinational operation up until May 1, when Poland took the lead. Lt. Col. Janzen said Portugal will take over from Poland in four months and will “most likely be reinforced” by German aircraft.

 

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