Think tank: Some NATO countries cutting defense spending

AP News
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Posted: Feb 26, 2015 10:34 AM
Think tank: Some NATO countries cutting defense spending

BRUSSELS (AP) — Despite stern talk and solemn pledges from NATO, a British-based think tank says some alliance member nations are cutting their spending on defense.

In a report released Thursday, the European Leadership Network said Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Hungary and Italy are all on track to reduce military expenditures in 2015.

In France, spending is forecast to remain flat.

"Despite Russian aggression in Ukraine and much rhetoric from NATO leaders that this has been a game-changer in European security, all the evidence suggests there is a continuation of business as usual," said Ian Kearns, director of the European Leadership Network and the report's co-author.

In September, NATO leaders vowed to "reverse the trend of declining defense budgets."

NATO's secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg has said total spending on defense by alliance members declined by 3 percent last year. He says such cuts simply aren't sustainable in today's security environment.

"We have seen new threats and new challenges, both in the east with a more aggressive and assertive Russia, with aggressive actions in Ukraine, and we have seen all the threats emanating from the south ... with turmoil, barbaric violence, sectarian violence in North Africa and the Mideast," Stoltenberg said Thursday while on a visit to Rome.

According to the study, Italy has slashed its preliminary defense budget this year by almost 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion). Nevertheless, Stoltenberg was diplomatic when asked about its findings. He praised Premier Matteo Renzi's efforts to reform Italy's moribund economy, and said that will benefit NATO in the long run by enabling Italy to spend more on defense.

The European Leadership Network's report examined defense spending in 14 of the 28 NATO countries where budgeting decisions for 2015 have been formally announced or indicated in advance through the public release of information. It excludes the United States, which the think tank said accounts for over 75 percent of alliance defense spending on its own.

The report found that six member nations_Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Romania_will hike spending in 2015, but not reach the ultimate target of 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product agreed to at the NATO summit.

Of the countries surveyed, the think tank said, only Estonia in 2015 will meet the spending goal of 2 percent of GDP.

This year, the report said, Britain is on course to spend the lowest percentage of its national wealth on defense in 25 years. In Germany, it said, defense spending is declining both in terms of spending and as a proportion of the country's overall economic output.

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Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed.