The United States has won from its European NATO allies a renewed commitment to the "3 percent formula guidance" for annual real defense spending increases. It has also won NATO's first public declaration of support for the US Rapid Deployment Force as a contribution to NATO's common security.
At a press conference May 13, after the two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, US Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger stated that it was a "very, very satisfactory meeting in every way."
Mr. Weinberger interpreted the 3 percent as a minimum and saw the Europeans as having acknowledged a need for even higher spending. The Europeans -- many of whom have had financial difficulty in meeting the 1978 NATO 3 percent pledge -- interpreted the 3 percent more as a maximum target, however. Credit would be given by the US, European NATO sources suggested, for significant qualitative contributions to NATO without drawing too fine a line on the 3 percent figure.
The final joint communique bridged these two views by saying that "the allies have also agreed to do their utmost to make available all the resources needed to provide the requisite strengthening of their deterrent and defense forces. This general guidance on resources is only one of a number of factors which are relevant to determining the defense efforts which nations should undertake."
In deference to the European view (which NATO sources said was argued most forcefully by West German Defense Minister Hans Apel) NATO Secretary-General Joseph Luns publicly praised Bonn's steady military spending during the past decade. This was a period, Weinberger pointed out, when US defense budgets fell. West Germany's 1981 defense budget (which Carter administration officials criticized) represents about a 2.6 percent real increase over 1980. Government sources in Bonn expect additional appropriations to raise this to 3 percent or more by the end of the year.
The Americans view the confirmed 3 percent target as a return European gesture for the US pledge at the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Rome last week to resume European nuclear arms-control talks with Moscow by the end of the year. The defense ministers' communique in Brussels approved this promise, but without special emphasis.
Compromise was also struck on NATO cooperation in "out of area" crises, referring to any future US use of its Rapid Deployment Force in countering a Soviet threat to Mideast oil. In their communique, the defense ministers urged their countries to participate fully in consultations within the Alliance ". . . to share, and as far as possible coordinate their assessments of the threat and its implications and to identify common objectives." The ministers also acknowledged an obligation of NATO members "to facilitate out-of-area deployments in support of the vital interests of all."
This phraseology was said by American and European sources to have been initiated by the Americans. It is viewed rather more as European endorsement of potential use of the US Rapid Deployment Force than as a European demand to be consulted prior to any US decision to intervene. European sources regard early consultations as implicit in the formulation, however, and point out that their endorsement of the Rapid Deployment Force is no carte blanche for Washington.
Weinberger said that the ministers discussed use of European airfields, facilities, and overflight rights for support of any action by the Rapid Deployment Force. Weinberger did not mention any agreement in these areas, not did he refer to the 1973 Yom Kippur war in which West Germany refused to let US planes refuel before flying on to the support of Israel. Weinberger said only that the ministers recognized "that this activity may be necessary," in crises affecting Mideast oil.
Apart from the 3 percent guideline and the Rapid Deployment Force the defense ministers seem to have focused mostly on refurbishing NATO's badly depreciated conventional weapon systems in Europe. The confidential US intelligence briefing on Soviet and Warsaw Pact capabilities featured satellite photos showing a Soviet buildup of conventional weapons. NATO sources said. And one of the few concrete decisions that was conveyed to the press was an agreed NATO acceleration of sp ending this year for conventional weapons.