By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 2, 2014 – At a Wilson Center forum here this morning on NATO’s 21st-century security challenges, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called for the creation of a new NATO ministerial meeting focused on defense investment that includes finance ministers or senior budget officials.
Hagel’s proposal builds on President Barack Obama's March 26 speech in Brussels, and Atlantic Council statements earlier this week by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John F. Kerry urging every NATO-member state to meet its commitment to the alliance.
Holding such a ministerial meeting would allow finance ministers or senior budget officials “to receive detailed briefings from alliance military leaders on the challenges we face,” Hagel said.
“Leaders across our governments must understand the consequences of current trends in reduced defense spending,” he added, “and help break through the fiscal impasse.”
Since the end of the Cold War, America’s military spending has become increasingly disproportionate within the alliance, the secretary said. Today, America’s gross domestic product is smaller than the combined GDPs of the 27 NATO allies, but America’s defense spending is three times its allies’ combined defense spending, he added.
Over time, such a lopsided burden threatens NATO’s integrity, cohesion and capability, the secretary said, and ultimately, it affects European and transatlantic security.
“Many of NATO’s smaller members have pledged to increase their defense investment, and earlier this week at the Pentagon, I thanked Estonia’s defense minister for his nation’s renewed commitment and investment in NATO,” Hagel told the audience.
“But the alliance cannot afford for Europe’s larger economies and most militarily capable allies not to do the same, particularly as transatlantic economies grow stronger,” he said. “We must see renewed financial commitments from all NATO members.”
Russia’s actions in Ukraine have made NATO’s value abundantly clear, the secretary said, adding that he knows from frequent conversations with NATO defense ministers that they need no convincing.
“Talking amongst ourselves is no longer good enough,” Hagel said. “Having participated in three NATO defense ministerials and having met with all of my NATO counterparts, I have come away recognizing that the challenge is building support for defense investment across our governments, not just in our defense ministries.”
Defense investment must be discussed in the broader context of member nations’ overall fiscal challenges and priorities, he added.
In meeting its global security commitments, the United States must have strong, committed and capable allies, and this year’s Quadrennial Defense Review makes this clear, the secretary said. Going forward, the Defense Department will seek and increasingly rely on closer integration and collaboration with allies, and in ways that will influence U.S. strategic planning and future investments, Hagel said.
From the early days of the Cold War, American defense secretaries have called on European allies to ramp up their defense investment, he noted. In recent years, one of the biggest obstacles to alliance investment has been a sense that the end of the Cold War ushered in an end to insecurity, at least in Europe, from aggression by nation states, the secretary said.
“Russia’s actions in Ukraine shatter that myth and usher in bracing new realities. Even a united and deeply interconnected Europe still lives in a dangerous world,” Hagel said.
“In the short term, the transatlantic alliance has responded to Russian actions with strength and resolve,” he added. “But over the long term, we should expect Russia to test our alliance’s purpose, stamina and commitment. Future generations will note whether, at this moment of challenge, we summoned the will to invest in our alliance.”
NATO should find creative ways to help nations around the world adapt collective security to a rapidly evolving global strategic landscape, the secretary said.
Collective security is not only the anchor of the transatlantic alliance, he added, but also is a model for emerging security institutions around the world, from Africa to the Persian Gulf to Southeast Asia.
“I say this having just convened a forum of [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] defense ministers last month,” Hagel said, “and having called for a Gulf Cooperation Council defense ministerial this year.”
He added, “These institutions bring our people, interests and economies closer together, serving as anchors for stability, security and prosperity. Strengthening these regional security institutions must be a centerpiece of America’s defense policy as we continue investing in NATO.”