NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen has declared that the economic crisis could lead to a security crisis if defence cuts continue.
Mr Rasmussen argued for “a defence recovery” as defence spending declines across the European and North American alliance, stating “We need to stop the decline and then we need to reverse it.”
In a bold speech at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Prague, he urged the leaders of member states and NATO parliamentarians to promoted an increase in defence spending.
“Freedom does not come for free,” said the secretary general. “Any decisions taken to improve our economy must not lead us into a different sort of crisis – a security crisis.”
The argument was that failed states will continue to host terrorist organisations that threaten Western countries while sea lanes and other vital transport and communication systems will still need to be protected.
The economic crisis that has Europe and America hard has had huge repercussions on defence spending as countries look to balance the books.
Total Allied defence expenditure has declined by over $56 bn (£35bn) since 2009 and there is an a growing dependence on the US for NATO funds, a problem that will be exacerbated when $500bn (£307bn) worth of cuts are implements over the next decade.
In Europe, six Allies actually increased defence spending last year compared with 2009, but this was outweighed by the deep cuts made in nineteen other member states.
Among the European Allies, only two devoted more than 2% of their gross domestic product to defence last year and four devoted less than 1%.
Since 1991, the non-US share of NATO’s defence spending has fallen from 35% to 23% today. Rasmussen said that “this growing transatlantic gap is unsustainable [and] undermines the Alliance principle of solidarity.”
Rasmussen sent what he described as a clear message to Europe, “we need to take on greater responsibility for our security, not less.”
Defence spending in Asia is estimated to have doubled over the last ten years and is set to overtake defence spending by NATO’s European Allies for the first time this year.
By 2015, China will outspend the eight major NATO European Allies combined and Russia intends to double its defence budget from 3% to 6% of gross domestic product within the next 10 years.
Rasmussen was worried by the power shift from west to east, saying it “will create a gap between their ability to act, and ours.”
“If we continue on our current path and further diminish defence spending, we will see our influence diminish on the international stage just as fast,” he added.
With the NATO’s military operation in Afghanistan moving towards a training mission at the end of 2014, countries may divert further resource away from sustained investment in defence.
In an uncertain security environment, NATO published a statement on its website saying that it “must have the right forces and capabilities needed to deter and defend against any threat, as well as to play an influential role in international developments.”