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Budget crisis, less military spending may impact NATO's post-ISAF mission

October 6, 2011

By Master Sgt. Doug Sample

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 6, 2011) -- The worldwide economic crisis is having an impact on the NATO mission militarily as the alliance transitions to a post-International Security Assistance Force environment, said the commander of U.S. Army Europe during a bloggers roundtable today.

Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who took command of U.S. Army Europe in March, said that much like the U.S. is grappling with its own military budget shortfalls, most European allies who are looking to modernize are facing their own set of challenges.

The International Security Assistance Force is the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, which includes participation from nearly 50 countries world-wide. More than 70 percent of those participating nations are in Europe.

"What we are seeing is various influences, depending on the country, of what the budget is doing specifically to the military," he explained. "There aren't many countries, in fact I can't think of one, that actually meets the NATO requirement of two percent gross domestic product contribution to military budget," adding that this dilemma is something that politicians and budgeters will have to address.

Hertling pointed out that with fewer military dollars, countries must decide whether to spend money on weapons or training for contingency operations. "Every single country that we are working with in terms of building alliances are having challenges with budgets and getting as much as what they like to have within their militaries -- as are we."

"Do I buy more rifles and radios and intelligence equipment for the army, or do I buy a couple of F-16s for the air force? ... Those are the kinds of things they are weighing and frankly have to determine in terms of their new roles both within NATO," Hertling said. "They have some hard choices, just like we have."

However, despite the crisis, Hertling emphasized that every country he has worked with is "fighting above their weight class" as far as contributions to the NATO mission.

"From a military standpoint, and from my working with the allied armies, every single one them that I've dealt with have been doing the very best that they can to contribute to coalitions ... even small countries that have budget contributions of less than 1 percent," the general said.

Using Estonia as an example, he said the tiny Baltic state in Northern Europe has done "significant work" in terms of contributing forces to operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

In response to questions on the U.S. debt crisis and how the country will deal with cuts to military spending in a post ISAF environment, Hertling said he trusts congressional leaders will do what's right for the military and the nation's security.

"I'm convinced that in an increasingly globalized world that our smart decision makers will do the right analysis and make the right call on what kind of military we need, but they will also consider things like budget situation, the strategy and the threat," he said. "I know there is going to be a lot of debate in the next couple of months on all these things, but I believe we got some pretty smart people making those decisions. I'm just hopeful they make the right ones."

Hertling said he tells his troops not to worry about military spending cuts and how having fewer resources to work with will affect them.

"That's my job," he said. "I'll fight for the budget, you just train your forces ... and if we don't get the resources we need, then we will adjust."

Meanwhile, Hertling said that better theater security cooperation and building relationships through military exercises and training with NATO allies will be key to maintaining peace and stability in a post-ISAF world.

Currently, thousands of USAREUR troops along with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, out of Vicenza, Italy, and NATO allies, are taking part in the full-spectrum theater security exercise at the military training centers in Hohenfels and Grafenwoehr, Germany. He said last year USAEUR conducted more than 8,000 theater security cooperation events with partner nations.

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