U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has urged NATO members to spend more on defense to enable the alliance to meet challenges in the world. Rumsfeld is in Taormina, Italy meeting with his fellow-NATO defense ministers.
Secretary Rumsfeld says he followed through on plans to discuss the sensitive issue with his counterparts from NATO's 25 other member nations.
"I continued to urge the members of NATO to look at the percentage of their gross domestic product that's being invested in defense to assure that they and NATO have the levels of defense spending to ensure that we have the capabilities that will be needed in this new century," he said.
Currently, NATO operations are funded by the countries that provide the troops and equipment, resulting in a disproportionate share of the cost falling on countries with the most military capability available to lend to the alliance, such as the United States. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says the member states have begun to discuss a new financing arrangement, but no decision has been reached. He says NATO needs to figure out how it will finance such current and future needs as increased capability for airlift, air-to-ground surveillance and air-to-air refueling, as well as ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo, and a new reaction force that is to become operational in October.
The secretary general also gave a report on Friday's meeting between the NATO defense ministers and the Russian defense minister. Scheffer says Russia has been supportive of NATO operations, and that it is expanding its direct cooperation with the alliance, especially on counter-terrorism operations.
"We are exchanging intelligence information and analysis," he said. "We are assessing threat information in the regions of interest both to Russia and to NATO. We are taking operational steps together, including involving the Russian navy in our Active Endeavor operation in the Mediterranean. Let's not underestimate the importance of this step."
Active Endeavor is a multi-nation operation that starts in June, and it will also involve three of the seven members of NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue, Morocco, Algeria and Israel. The defense ministers from all seven Dialogue countries joined the NATO ministers for lunch on Friday, which Secretary General Scheffer called a significant step in re-enforcing both dialogue and practical cooperation.
He said this year NATO plans to expand its dealings with the seven countries involving logistics, defense planning, language training and emergency preparedness. He said NATO also wants the Mediterranean countries' help in improving the alliance's image in the region. The other four NATO Mediterranean Dialogue countries are Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania and Tunisia.
Also on Friday, Secretary Rumsfeld had a one-on-one meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. At a news conference, Rumsfeld disputed a reporter's suggestion that U.S.-Russian defense relations are deteriorating. He said the two countries are working together on many issues, but he also acknowledged there are differences on some things, such as weapons sales to certain countries.
"Needless to say, the United States prefers that countries not sell weapons to countries that are on the terrorist list," he said. "We prefer that sales not be made to countries that are being notably unhelpful in Iraq, where we have troops on the ground and NATO has a train and equip activity."
Russia, meanwhile, is concerned about Ukraine's interest in joining NATO. Minister Ivanov said Ukraine has the right to join whatever international organizations it wants, but that joining NATO "would be bad" for Ukraine. He also said it would have an impact on Ukraine's relations with Russia, which he assured reporters will not be joining NATO.