Chuck Hagel urges NATO allies to boost defense spending

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks about NATO at the Woodrow Wilson Center May 2, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson, Getty Images

Calling the crisis in Ukraine a "a clarifying moment for the transatlantic alliance," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday called on NATO members to boost their defense spending.

"We must see renewed financial commitments from all NATO members," Hagel said at a forum on NATO expansion at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Russia's actions in Ukraine "shatter that myth" that the Cold War ushered in an end to insecurity in Europe, he said. Yet since the end of the Cold War, he noted, America's military spending has become increasingly disproportionate within the Alliance. The United States' defense spending is three times the combined defense spending of other NATO allies.

"Over time, this lopsided burden threatens NATO's integrity, cohesion, and capability - and, ultimately, both European and transatlantic security," Hagel said.

Already, smaller NATO members such as Estonia have pledged to increase their defense spending. "But the Alliance cannot afford for Europe's larger economies and most militarily capable Allies not to do the same," Hagel said, "particularly as transatlantic economies grow stronger."

Having met with his NATO counterparts, Hagel said he believes the challenge is building support for increased defense spending across governments, not just within defense departments. In other words, it must be discussed in the broader context of fiscal priorities. Consequently, he called for the inclusion of finance ministers or senior budget officials at a NATO ministerial focused on defense investment, so that they could receive "detailed briefings from Alliance military leaders" on ongoing military challenges.

"Leaders across our governments must understand the consequences of current trends in reduced defense spending," he said.

Hagel also said the U.S. and Europe should partner over the long-term "to bolster Europe's energy security and blunt Russia's coercive energy policies."

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