BRUSSELS Feb 26 U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck
Hagel cautioned NATO allies on Wednesday against using
reductions in U.S. defense spending as an excuse to slash
European military outlays.
Hagel arrived in Brussels two days after announcing U.S.
plans to shrink America's Army to pre-World War Two levels and
make other controversial cuts, in the face of shrinking budgets
and the end of 13 years of land wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Still, Hagel noted that the Pentagon's budget would protect
investments in transatlantic security, including missile
defense. Hagel said the U.S. military was still "prioritizing
military capability and combat power" even as it slims down, and
suggested Europe must do the same.
"America's contributions in NATO remains starkly
disproportionate, so adjustments in the U.S. defense budget
cannot become an excuse for further cuts in European defense
spending," Hagel said in prepared remarks to a closed-door
session of a defense ministers' meeting.
Austerity-hit EU countries have slashed spending after the
financial crisis, scaling back on ships, tanks and fighter jets.
The reductions in military strength are a concern of the United
States, which is Europe's most important ally and which already
contributes about three-quarters of NATO defence spending.
Hagel cited the need to increase NATO's air-to-air refueling
capacity, after the 2011 Libya conflict demonstrated a shortage
of tanker aircraft. He said Libya also exposed NATO shortcomings
in other areas, including a lack of precision-guided munitions
"We saw these gaps once again among allied militaries in
preparing potential U.S.-led responses to the Syrian regime's
heinous use of chemical weapons," he said, referring to the U.S.
threat last year to conducted limited military strikes on Syrian
Hagel said if leaders of NATO-member nations believed in the
value of the alliance, then they would make the case to their
legislators and taxpayers.
"As European economies recover, leaders must make the case
for renewed investment in military capability. The current path
is not sustainable," Hagel said. "Our alliance can endure only
as long as we are willing to fight for it, and invest in it."
(Reporting by Phil Stewart)