Auteur: Andrew Rettman
BRUSSELS - Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has urged EU countries to spend more on defence despite the economic crisis or risk losing US solidarity.
He said in a statement in the alliance's report on 2012, out on Thursday (31 January), that: "If current defence spending trends were to continue, that would limit the practical ability of Nato's European nations to work together with their North American allies. But it would also risk weakening the political support for our alliance in the United States."
He added Nato is still "the most important military power in the world."
But he also warned "the rise of emerging powers could create a growing gap between their capacity to act and exert influence on the international stage and our ability to do so."
"The security challenges of the 21st century - terrorism, proliferation, piracy, cyber warfare, unstable states - will not go away as we focus on fixing our economies," he said.
The report shows the US accounted for 72 percent of Nato countries' defence spending in 2012 compared to 68 percent in 2007. France, Germany, Italy and the UK made up the bulk of the rest, but the French contribution fell the most steeply.
"This has the potential to undermine alliance solidarity and puts at risk the ability of the European allies to act without the involvement of the United States," the report said.
It added that Nato spending as a proportion of world expenditure fell to 60 percent in 2011 from 69 percent in 2003 and is to hit 56 percent in 2014.
'EU like Vatican'
The angst over EU defence capabilities is not new.
Former US defence chief Robert Gates in 2011 warned that EU weakness in Afghanistan had exasperated the Pentagon.
The anxiety is also not confined to Nato offices.
Speaking in Brussels also on Thursday on the margins of an EU foreign ministers' meeting, Poland's Radek Sikorski said the Union needs a real defence force of its own.
"I think the Mali crisis shows this is necessary because the next crisis could unfold even more quickly and we need to be able to react instantly," he told press.
"Let's recall that events in Mali unfolded very fast. The terrorists crossed the line of contact and France reacted from one day to the next. And we know that in the EU, as in the Vatican, the wheels of state turn very slowly," he added.
EU arms licences
Meanwhile, the latest EU figures show that some of the worst crisis-hit EU countries are still ploughing money into new weapons despite Nato's concerns.
The figures, which cover arms export licences for 2011, indicate that bailout states Greece (€783mn), Portugal (€397mn) and Spain (€1.6bn) bought significant amounts of arms from fellow EU countries..
They do not tell the whole story, however.
France, which makes up most of the Greek figure, granted licences to negotiate future arms sales rather than export licences as such.
A large chunk of the Spanish number relates to cross-border movements of spare parts in defence projects, such as Eurofighter or Typhoon, managed by the European defence consortium, Eads.
Most of the Portuguese figure is a 2005 deal to buy armoured vehicles from Austrian firm Steyr. "Portugal, in the last two years, reduced its budget for the purchase of military equipment by over 60 percent," its ministry of defence told EUobserver.