NATO grapples with financial restraints

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NATO grapples with financial restraints

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NATO and Europe is at heart a strategic partnership and the Atlantic alliance sees its relations with the European Union as critical. Strong European defence policies can only help foster a more equal transatlantic security policy, as enshrined in official doctrine.

But last October at a Brussels summit, the Americans expressed fears the Europeans were cutting too deeply into their defence budgets, a consequence of the continent’s deep budget deficits. Even Britain is wielding the axe.

“We have inherited a defence budget massively overcommitted, 38 billion pounds (45 billion euros) overcommitted over the next 10 years, so any responsible government has to do something about that. But we will remain a country with an independent nuclear deterrent, formidable intelligence agencies, with deployable armed forces around the globe,” say British Foreign Minister William Hague.

The UK, with Europe’s biggest military budget, is not bucking the trend. Most European nations are busy cancelling or delaying expensive military equipment programmes.

This worries NATO, which has set a two percent of GDP target for member’s military budgets. The UK, Greece and France are above this, but Germany, Italy and Spain are way behind according to NATO’s latest available figures.

The total defence expenditure of Europe’s NATO members has slid from 228 billion euros at the start of the century to just under 200 billion today.

One solution to cope with the financial crisis is to pool resources and rationalise. Britain and France, Europe’s only nuclear powers, have just signed a 50-year treaty to share nuclear development and aircraft carriers. They are confident it will lead to no loss of national sovereignty, and they will maintain their power, but at a cheaper cost to both.

But military co-operation between Europeans is always a tricky business. The A400M transport plane is a prime example. Six EU nations plus Turkey want it, but it is late, way over budget, and has avoided cancellation by the skin of its teeth.