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US Calls for NATO Cooperation in Time of Austerity

Luis Ramirez | Brussels, Belgium October 05, 2011

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned NATO countries attending a meeting of NATO defense ministers the United States may not be able to sustain operations like those in Libya and Afghanistan as it tries to deal with its own budget problems.

Panetta arrived in Brussels to attend his first NATO ministerial conference as secretary of defense. He brought a careful but clear message: that the United States may no longer be able to make up for gaps that its NATO allies have had in carrying out missions like those in Libya and Afghanistan.

Panetta said the two operations exposed gaps that the United States had to fill, especially in the area of refueling tankers, intelligence and reconnaissance, and air-to-air refueling. He said the gaps have been exposed at a time when NATO nations are facing cuts in their defense budgets, and the U.S., facing more than $450 billion in cuts, may no longer be in a position to offset the shortfalls.

"There are legitimate questions about whether, if present trends continue, NATO will again be able to sustain the kind of operations we have seen in Libya and Afghanistan without the United States taking on even more of a burden. It would be a tragic outcome if the alliance shed the very capabilities that allowed it to successfully conduct these operations," said Panetta.

The alliance depends entirely on the United States for drones and other expensive capabilities.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it is vital for allies to improve their capabilities to face future challenges and do so on a tighter budget. He said that in this age of austerity, the allies will have to find ways to get more out of their defense budgets, by joining their resources and sharing the cost of projects.

In a separate development, senior U.S. defense officials on Wednesday said the United States and Spain have agreed to base Aegis cruisers on the Spanish coast. The move is part of an anti-ballistic missile defense system that is being set up to protect Europe from a possible nuclear threat from Iran.

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