NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow says he hopes Russia's aggressive actions will spur increased defense spending among NATO allies. (Yuri Kadobnov / Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — NATO leaders plan to push European countries to increase defense spending at September’s meeting of alliance members in Wales, amid Russia’s military buildup on its border with Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.
“There’s hope that this crisis will be a bit of a wake-up call,” Amb. Alexander Vershbow, NATO deputy secretary general, told the Defense Writers Group at a breakfast Thursday. “Although some people joke that some countries may just hit the snooze button rather than increasing defense spending.”
Nonetheless, the topic of increasing defense spending will be among the top agenda items when the heads of state from alliance member nations meet later this year.
“That certainly will be one of the goals for the summit is to get a commitment from the highest-level leaders to raise defense spending and increase the emphasis on real capability rather than spending money on the wrong thing,” Vershbow said.
NATO has accused Russia of sending non-uniformed military into eastern Ukraine to take over government buildings. At the same time, more than 100,000 Russian troops have massed on the near the Ukrainian border.
“We need to stay focused on the situation and be ready to appropriately respond to whatever path Russia decides to take,” Gen. Philip Breedlove, the NATO supreme allied commander, said at an Atlantic Council event in Washington on Wednesday evening.
“Over the long term, NATO must adapt to Russia’s new model of using force to achieve its state objectives,” he said. “This will require strategic adaptation to meet the demands of the 21st century in deterrence and assurance.”
Breedlove said the alliance must ask itself if it is agile and flexible enough, are forces positioned correctly, and “are they responsive enough to address the new challenges.”
Vershbow noted how the alliance is working through the “Framework Nation Concept” in which a large ally is encouraged to “pair up with” three or four smaller countries. This could allow the smaller countries to divide up labor and produce deployable forces cheaper, he said.
But, he did say that NATO’s Smart Defense pooling-and-sharing initiative has “only produced limited results” due to the decline in European defense spending.
“We’re pushing to get some Smart Defense decisions by the time of the summit in key areas,” he said.
Those areas include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, aerial refueling, precision-guided munitions, and missile defense.
NATO has been working to acquire Northrop Grumman Global Hawk unmanned aircraft as part of the Alliance Ground Surveillance program.
There has also been talk among countries operating the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned strike aircraft of creating a “users group that could achieve economies of scale by combining maintenance, training, even co-location at certain bases,” Vershbow said.
The user-group members could make use of a new NATO built and financed common command-and-control architecture at Sigonella Air Base in Italy.
The European Defence Agency has also been pushing the shared use of air-to-air refueling aircraft, similar to an arrangement in which nations operate Boeing C-17 cargo planes on a timeshare basis.
Denmark is leading an effort that is looking at pooling munitions. Some nations ran out of bombs during the alliance’s 2011 operations in Libya.
The Danish goal is to “create a pool that countries with interoperable systems could invest in and then they could draw down from the pool during an operation,” Vershbow said. “It could be more efficient than everybody maintaining an autonomous, independent stockpile.” ■