NATO's secretary general has criticized member states for not spending enough on defense at a time when the military alliance is increasingly called upon to participate in dangerous missions, including in Afghanistan. Speaking in Budapest, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also made clear that countries trying to join NATO will have to wait.
After talks with Hungarian officials, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he regrets that Hungary and other member states are spending less on defense than required by the military alliance.
He said more money was urgently needed because NATO is confronted with several operations, including intensified fighting in southern Afghanistan with remnants of the Taleban regime and the terror network al-Qaida.
NATO guidelines call for member countries to spend at least two percent of their Gross Domestic Product on defense, but De Hoop Scheffer said most NATO countries fall far short of that.
"I am no fan of the percentage of the Gross Domestic Product, which Hungary is able to spend on defense, because that is of course much too low, if you look at the two-percent GDP benchmark the NATO alliance [members] have set for themselves," he said.
"To avoid misunderstanding this is not a message I am only giving here in Budapest, because only seven of the 26 NATO allies reached the two-percent GDP target. And I think that is a wrong development for an alliance which is ambitious and which is called upon more and more to participate in operations and missions."
Hungary's government has said it is already struggling to cut its budget deficit, which is expected to be more than 10 percent of GDP this year, the largest deficit of the European Union.
But Hungarian Defense Minister Imre Szekeres promised the NATO secretary general that Hungary will boost its military and remain active in hot spots such as Afghanistan where it plans to have a few hundred troops.
Despite the tight budget and austerity measures, he says Hungary is planning to meet its obligations. The minister explains that Hungary wants to provide additional funds to cover costs of military expenditures related to NATO commitments, such as for helicopters and missiles.
Several Balkan and former Soviet nations, including Georgia, are seeking membership in the alliance.
De Hoop Scheffer cautioned that enlargement will not be at the top of the agenda during an upcoming summit in Riga, Latvia.
"The Riga summit is not an enlargement summit. There will be what I call a 'positive signal of encouragement' to those nations, more specifically in the west Balkans ... who aspire to become NATO members. But this will not be a summit to issue invitations," he said.
All he could promise is there might be another summit on enlargement in 2008, but stressed that will also depend on the efforts of aspirant members to reform their defense structure.
Besides financial reforms, De Hoop Scheffer has said that NATO can become more effective if member countries lift limitations on how they can be deployed.
Germany, for instance, has so far resisted pressure to let NATO commanders shift some of its 27,00 troops from relatively peaceful northern Afghanistan to the south, where Canadian, British and Dutch forces have borne the brunt of the fighting.