NATO Coordination Key as Allies Face Cuts, Says Top U.S. Official

Top U.S. official says NATO must work together to maintain forces.

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Acknowledging the likely impacts of a stagnant American economy and a fragile euro zone coping with an expensive Greek bailout on future spending, a top U.S. official says NATO countries must coordinate looming military cuts in order to fulfill ongoing and future obligations.

Ivo Daalder, the United States ambassador to NATO, told a group of reporters on Friday that expected U.S. defense cuts will have a significant impact on the alliance and called for coordinated efforts to confront the challenge.

"We need to do it increasingly in cooperative terms," he says. "If we don't do that, we won't have the capabilities necessary to fulfill our duties."

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In the past, the United States accounted for half of NATO's budget, but now it represents 75 percent. That's thanks to increases from the U.S. and decreases by European countries over at least the last 10 years. The U.S. current plans for reduction annually are larger than any single ally spends on defense itself, Daalder says.

"Our allies recognize that when you are cutting $500 billion in 10 years there are going to be changes in your posture," he says. "The wrong way is for every nation to look at its own defense budget to see where it should cut and make those cuts no matter what your neighbors are doing. The right way to do it is to look at these defense cuts within the context of the NATO defense planning apparatus writ large."

Daalder used a recent decision by the Netherlands as an example of what he meant. While the Dutch significantly reduced defense spending, they chose to strategically invest in frigates that "double the capacity of the ship-born missile defense system that NATO is now employing," he says.

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"So that's wise, what the secretary general of NATO would call smart defense spending, where there's no sense to operate those [ships] without the knowledge that you can plug it into a joint manned control system," Daalder says.

The recent NATO mission in Libya highlighted both the importance of the alliance's role in future world conflicts and exposed current vulnerabilities from chronic lack of investment in resources.

"President Obama has made very clear what he thinks of NATO and its goals, which is that we live in a world which virtually everything we do requires partnership," he says. "This is the way of the future. We work together with other countries."

And one of the important lessons learned in the Libya mission, which saw a NATO-led force intervene in the African nation to help stem civilian casualties as dictator Muammar Qadhafi was overthrown by rebel forces, was the need for a well-stocked, prepared allied force.

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European under-investment in defense over the past decade led to NATO ammunitions stockpiles running out very quickly in Libya, Daalder says.

"This was a critical operation, but it was a very small operation. And it stretched them in a significant way," he says of NATO. "So they need to think about, how do we have stockpiling capability and be ready to generate forces for this kind of or even a larger conflict. I think if current trends continue, 10 years from now, it's not clear we could do this."

By heeding that lesson, NATO can continue to build its reputation and capabilities, Daalder says.

Email: rmetzler@usnews.com

Twitter: @rebekahmetzler