Munich: The head of NATO criticised cuts in European defence spending on Friday, saying the turmoil in Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East showed the need to invest more in security.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that in the past two years defence spending by NATO`s European members had shrunk by a combined USD 45 billion -- the equivalent of Germany`s entire defence budget.
The cuts had widened the gap between expenditures by the United States and its European allies, Rasmussen told the annual Munich Security Conference.
"Ten years ago, the United States accounted for just under half of NATO members` total defence spending," Rasmussen said.
"Today the American share is closer to 75 percent - and it will continue to grow, even with the new cuts in the Pentagon`s spending that (US Defence) Secretary (Robert) Gates announced last month."
He called suggestions by some European states that there should be a division of labour -- with Washington providing hard power and Europeans increasingly turning to soft power like training and institution-building -- "at best naive, and, at worst, dangerous".
Rasmussen pointed to fast-moving events in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.
"The outcome of this turmoil remains unclear, its long-term consequences unpredictable. But one thing we know: old certainties no longer hold, tectonic plates are shifting.”
"At stake today is not just the world economy, but the world order. So why, now of all times, should Europe conclude that it no longer needs to invest in defence?" he asked.
Rasmussen also cited a tripling of Chinese defence spending in the past decade and a 60 percent increase by India in the same period.
He reiterated a warning that if European states continued to slash spending and the gap between Europe and the US widened further, Washington could start to look elsewhere for allies.
Rasmussen said European nations needed to respond to tough economic times by pooling resources and boosting investment in development of multi-national defence projects and by forging closer links with the private sector.
He said Britain and France were the two biggest spenders on research and development in defence, yet together their investment was only 12 percent of what the United States spends.
Additionally, 80 percent of European research and development continues to be spent on national programmes.
"We need to do better. If nations devote a greater share of their research and development spending to multinational projects, that will make a difference," Rasmussen said.