As Russian aggression over Ukraine heats up, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is once again calling on NATO members to step up their defense spending.
The message is certainly not new, but Hagel has a new idea to help nudge NATO allies to contribute more to regional security. He wants to convene a NATO meeting soon that will be focused solely on defense investment – and he wants defense ministers from each nation to bring their finance ministers or top budget officials with them.
“Since the end of the Cold War, America’s military spending has become increasingly disproportionate within the alliance,” Hagel said during a speech Friday at the Wilson Center titled “Into the Fold or Out in the Cold? NATO Expansion and European Security After the Cold War.”
NATO members can no longer depend on the alliance’s most powerful members, like the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, to continue to foot the majority of the bill, Hagel said.
“Today, America’s GDP is smaller than the combined GDP’s of our 27 NATO allies, but America’s defense spending is three times our allies’ combined defense spending. Over time, this lopsided burden threatens NATO’s integrity, cohesion, and capability – and, ultimately, both European and transatlantic security.”
“For decades – from the early days of the Cold War – American defense secretaries have called on European allies to ramp up their defense investment,” he said. “And 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 of history,’ and an end to insecurity – at least in Europe – from aggression by nation-states. Russia’s actions in Ukraine shatter that myth and usher in bracing new realities.”
Hagel said NATO should stop thinking about defense in terms of just military cooperation. “Defense investment must be discussed in the broader context of member nations’ overall fiscal challenges and priorities.”
Including budget officials in NATO meetings “would allow them to receive detailed briefings from alliance military leaders on the challenges we face. Leaders across our governments must understand the consequences of current trends in reduced defense spending … and help break through the fiscal impasse.”
Hagel’s speech comes as violence in eastern Ukraine escalates. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said two of its helicopters were shot down in Slavyansk, where the heaviest clashes have been reported. And the Associated Press is reporting that several pro-Russian separatists were killed Friday in Slavyansk.
The Pentagon recently sent 600 U.S. troops to conduct military exercises in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and Hagel has been meeting with several of his counterparts from Ukraine and other NATO nations in recent weeks to step up coordination and urge them to contribute more money to the effort. “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 said. “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. We must see renewed financial commitments from all NATO members.”