BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO’s chief said on Tuesday he hoped European allies would commit to raising defense spending at an alliance summit in September in response to U.S. demands that Europe do more to protect itself in the face of a resurgent Russia.
The United States, which dominates the Western military bloc, has used the Ukraine crisis to raise pressure on its European allies to reverse a slide in defense spending since the 2008 financial crisis.
Although the United States has announced cuts of its own, U.S. defense spending in 2013 accounted for nearly three quarters of total NATO military expenditure.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaking at a conference in Brussels, said he hoped NATO leaders meeting in Wales on Sept. 4-5 would adopt “a transatlantic declaration that on the one hand will reaffirm the American commitment to European security and ... also reaffirm a European commitment to a fair sharing of costs and responsibilities”.
The United States and other NATO allies have sent fighter aircraft and ships to eastern Europe to reassure countries alarmed by Russia’s actions in Ukraine, which have drawn attention to Europe’s declining military power.
Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in March after protesters toppled the country’s Russian-backed president. Pro-Russian separatists then seized parts of eastern Ukraine, triggering fighting with the Ukrainian armed forces.
Visiting Europe last week, U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled plans to spend up to $1 billion on supporting and training the armed forces of NATO states on Russia’s borders.
NATO military planners are working on longer term measures to boost alliance defenses known as a “readiness action plan”.
“A successful summit would be a summit that adopts a readiness action plan to reinforce our collective defense ... financed by a common commitment to invest more in defense,” Rasmussen said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urged his European counterparts at a NATO meeting in Brussels last week to reverse defense spending cuts and said that a confidential report to the meeting on the state of alliance military capabilities was “a sobering dose of reality.”
According to NATO, Russia has increased its defense spending by 50 percent over the last five years while NATO countries have cut theirs by 20 percent.
In 2013, only the United States, Britain, Greece and Estonia met the NATO target of spending the equivalent of two percent of their economic output on defense, according to NATO figures.
In the wake of the Ukraine crisis, several NATO allies - including Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania - have announced plans to raise defense spending and Rasmussen said he believed some other allies would follow suit.
Rasmussen said persuading some allies to spend more would be difficult because many governments were still struggling with their finances. But he said Estonia had managed to reach NATO’s 2 percent target despite being hard-hit by the financial crisis.
“I would argue that if it is possible for Estonia, it would be possible for other countries as well,” he said.
Editing by Mark Heinrich