NATO urges allies to reverse defense spending cuts
By Adrian Croft and Phil Stewart
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged allies on Thursday to reverse damaging defense-spending cuts once their economies improve as U.S. officials warned of the impact that across-the-board U.S. budget reductions could have on the alliance.
"If defense cuts continue, it will have a negative impact on our ability to provide effective defense and protection of our populations," Rasmussen told reporters at the start of a NATO defense ministers' meeting.
He appealed to allies, many of which have slashed defense spending in response to the economic crisis, to stop defense cuts, use their resources more efficiently by working together, and to increase defense spending once their economies recover.
He declined to comment directly on $46 billion in U.S. budget cuts scheduled to take effect from March 1 that would slash nearly every U.S. military program or activity by a flat percentage unless Congress acts to avert them.
"But from an overall perspective it is of course a matter of concern that we have seen and continue to see declining defense budgets all over the alliance," Rasmussen said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta intends to warn NATO allies in Brussels that cuts under the "sequester" - as the mechanism for the across-the-board cuts is known - could impact U.S. contributions to NATO readiness, Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
"We think the alliance's readiness could be diminished if sequestration takes effect," he told reporters during Panetta's flight to Brussels on Wednesday.
In talks with his Italian counterpart in Brussels on Thursday, Panetta warned "how devastating sequestration would be for U.S. defense and national security", Little said. Continued...