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U.S. Prods Europe On NATO Spending

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U.S. Prods Europe On NATO Spending

National Security

U.S. Prods Europe On NATO Spending

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

President Obama will announce tonight both the size and pace of the withdrawal of American troops in Afghanistan.

MONTAGNE: One of the calculations in his decision is a growing concern about the cost of military operations - not only in Afghanistan, but in other parts of the world.

Also under the microscope is funding for NATO. Complaints that the U.S. is paying a disproportionate share for the alliance are escalating, as NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM: When NATO was formed at the end of the 1940s, its mission was clear cut: a collective defense by European and American allies against the threat of the Soviet Union. As General Lord Ismay, NATO's first secretary-general, pithily summed it up: the alliance was to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.

NATO's mission may have shifted after the end of the Cold War, but one thing has remained constant - the U.S. is shouldering the military and financial burden of the alliance.

Earlier this month in his final speech to NATO as defense secretary, Robert Gates said at one time the U.S. could justify contributing up to 50 percent of NATO's budget.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): But some two decades after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the U.S. share of NATO defense spending has now risen to more than 75 percent - at a time when politically painful budget and benefit cuts are being considered at home.

NORTHAM: Gates said the U.S. is embroiled in two wars and an economic crisis. He lashed out at NATO members for having grown reliant on American military capabilities instead of increasing their own defense budgets. Gates warned that the U.S. Congress and the American people were growing tired of picking up most of the tab.

Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says there was a clear warning behind Gates blunt talk.

Ms. HEATHER CONLEY (Director and Senior Fellow, Europe Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies): If our European partners are unwilling to take a step forward, increase their defense spending, they cannot assume that the United States will remain - you know, its spending and its capabilities in Europe may have to be reduced in light of other budgetary restrictions.

NORTHAM: But Conley says Gates' message fell on deaf ears. She said there's not a lot of political will in Europe to increase defense spending for NATO.

Sean Kay, a professor of politics and government at Ohio Wesleyan University has worked on NATO issues inside and outside of government for 30 years. He says there's little motivation for European nations to take on a greater role.

Professor SEAN KAY (Government, Ohio Wesleyan University): It's a pretty good deal for them. I mean, they're doing what's in their interests, you know, they can get away with spending very little on defense and getting the benefits of the American commitment and we're willing to sustain that then, you know, it's just as much a challenge for us to look at ourselves and ask well, what are we going to do to change that calculus?

NORTHAM: Kay says the U.S. does get something out of the alliance - validation of U.S. foreign policy objectives and legitimacy for military operations like the one in Afghanistan.

Secretary Gates has criticized NATO for not living up to its commitments in Afghanistan, for placing too many restrictions on the troops it sends there. But Robert Hunter, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO says many in the alliance see Afghanistan as an American mission, rather than a NATO one.

Mr. ROBERT HUNTER (Former U.S. ambassador to NATO): The allies were much more reluctant because they didn't seem themselves and don't see themselves directly affected by events in Afghanistan the way we do, particular with regard to terrorism. And as a result, I won't say they were doing us a favor, but they did it in order to please the United States rather than if they didn't do it, they would suffer some direct consequences for their own security.

NORTHAM: The military operation in Libya is being led by NATO, but relying heavily on the U.S. for intelligence, munitions, and surveillance aircraft.

Ohio Wesleyan University's Kay says European partners should be able to manage security concerns in their own backyard. He says the U.S. needs to have a fundamental rethink about its relationship with NATO allies.

Mr. KAY: The real value of the American European relationship today is in the transatlantic economic relationship and the real threats and challenges to that are economic, not military. So the NATO basis of that is really not as crucial or even as important.

NORTHAM: Kay says nothing should happen precipitously, or in a burst of isolationism.

Jackie Northam, NPR News Washington

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