U.S. Prods Europe On NATO Spending Robert Gates, in his final speech to NATO as defense secretary, lashed out recently at NATO members for having grown reliant on U.S. military capabilities instead of increasing their own defense budgets. But experts say there isn't much political will in Europe to increase defense spending for the alliance.
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U.S. Prods Europe On NATO Spending

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U.S. Prods Europe On NATO Spending

U.S. Prods Europe On NATO Spending

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

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

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

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

MONTAGNE: 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: 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.

ROBERT GATES: 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: 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.

HEATHER CONLEY: 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: 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.

SEAN KAY: 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: 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.

ROBERT HUNTER: 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: 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.

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: Jackie Northam, NPR News Washington

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