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NATO members need to step up, says UK defense minister

Philip Hammond said today that Europe needs to take greater responsibility for its own security and be ready to act abroad. But NATO will have to become more efficient first, he warned.

By Correspondent / November 1, 2012

British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond poses for a photograph in front of HMS Victorious, during his visit to the Clyde Naval Base in Scotland on Monday. At a conference Thursday, Mr. Hammond warned that NATO needed to 'do things differently' to maintain the defensive alliance amid European austerity.

Danny Lawson/Reuters

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London

Britain's secretary of defense warned Thursday that NATO needs to "do things differently" after last year's intervention in Libya laid bare how imbalanced support for the alliance is among its member nations – due in large part to Europe's financial crisis.

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The plea by British Secretary of Defense Philip Hammond for European nations to take on more responsibility for security in their "own backyard" follows the sharp rebuke that the outgoing US Defense secretary, Bob Gates, delivered to NATO members in June, saying that the alliance faces “collective military irrelevance” after years of declining spending by most members.

“With the United States reflecting, in its strategic posture, the growing importance of the developing strategic challenge in the Pacific, the nations of Europe must find the political will to take on more responsibility for our own backyard, and fund the capabilities that allow us to do that," Mr. Hammond told a London conference on air power, organized by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank.

However, the pressure on the military budgets of a number of cash-strapped European states is not the only factor overshadowing moves to make NATO less reliant on US muscle. Question marks remain about the commitment to defense of the six-and-a-half-month-old Socialist government of France. France, along with Britain, accounts for half of Europe's defense budget and military capacity as well as two-thirds of its military research and development.

Benoit Gomis, a researcher at the London’s Chatham House think tank who is familiar with Franco-British defense and security cooperation, says that Britain and France are trying to respond to US calls for Europe to “pull its weight,” citing joint defense treaties signed by the two states in 2010 and, recently, a joint program to build drones. 

But he adds: “Under the previous French government of Nicolas Sarkozy, it was clear that there was clear political push for both countries to continue with such initiatives.”

“Now, it’s less clear what Francois Hollande will do, although the French have said that they are keen to extend the defense partnership. There has been reassurance but it’s still unclear what that will look like in practice.”

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