WASHINGTON – President Bush's agenda at a NATO summit this week will include pressing alliance members to increase defense spending. Aides say many U.S. allies are ill-equipped for modern military operations.
The defense outlays of some NATO partners are less than half those of the United States as a percentage of gross domestic product.
Bush is set to leave Monday to visit Estonia, a NATO member, ahead of the two-day NATO summit in Riga, Latvia. He then heads to Amman, Jordan, for talks Wednesday and Thursday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Ahead of Bush's visit, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters in Tallinn, Estonia, on Monday that Vice President Dick Cheney had briefed the president in person Sunday night on his weekend trip to Saudi Arabia.
Cheney's visit, and Bush's trip to Jordan, are part of the administration's stepped up efforts to bring stability to the region.
Amman had been selected for Bush's trip, Johndroe said, because "Jordan has been a strong ally, not only in the war on terror but also on assisting rebuilding and making Iraq realize it can govern, sustain and defend itself."
As to comments on Sunday by Jordan's King Abdullah that the region soon could become engulfed in multiple civil wars, Johndroe said that neither Bush nor al-Maliki believe the conflict in Iraq has yet degenerated into a civil war — but that bringing stability to Iraq, particularly Baghdad, was a top priority for both leaders.
The Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan 10-member commission led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, is working on a set of strategies for Iraq. The New York Times reported in Monday editions that the commission's draft report recommends aggressive regional diplomacy, including talks with Iran and Syria.
Anonymous officials who had seen the draft report told the Times it does not specify any timetables for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, although the commissioners are expected to debate the feasibility of such timetables.
Discussion of Afghanistan, where NATO has 32,000 troops battling the Taliban and working on reconstruction, is likely to dominate the alliance's summit. But the Bush administration hopes to use lessons from NATO's first major combat mission to make the case for broader spending.
"I think that the president will address the issue of the need for more resources for NATO and for NATO countries to spend more for defense," said Judy Ansley, senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council. "This has been a pretty consistent theme for us."
Nicholas Burns, the U.S. undersecretary for political affairs and a former NATO ambassador, said Bush will make the case, as he did at NATO summits in Istanbul and Prague, for increased spending on systems and capabilities "that are absolutely necessary for success on the modern battlefield and in modern peacekeeping."
While the U.S. spends about 3.7 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, most member countries spend less than 2 percent, he said.
"It is still true that only seven of the NATO allies spend more than 3 percent of their gross domestic product on defense," Burns said.
According to estimated figures published on NATO's Web site, France spent 2.5 percent of its GDP on defense last year, Britain devoted 2.4 percent and German expenditures were at 1.4 percent, down from 2 percent at the end of the Cold War. Canada was among the members with the lowest spending, at 1.1 percent of its GDP.
Analysts say the figures reflect differences in the perception of security threats, particularly in addressing terrorism.
"In the U.S. there is the dominant perception that you can solve terrorist problems militarily and in Europe the belief is that boosting intelligence capabilities and development aid is more important," said Josef Braml, resident fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.
Despite U.S. pressure, some NATO allies have continued to cut overall spending.
"Many of the European nations, particularly the smaller and medium-sized powers, are hitting the budgetary wall," Michele Flournoy, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said at a briefing Tuesday.
The alliance's mission in Afghanistan has exposed some of the defense shortfalls, the analysts say.
"We have seen some decisions by European members to step up purchases of armored vehicles and some movement toward helicopters as a result," said Alex Nicoll, director of defense analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. James L. Jones, said last week that calls he made to members in September for an additional 2,500 troops and more planes and helicopters for the Afghanistan mission had gone unanswered.
Jones also stressed the need for nations with troops in Afghanistan to lift restrictions that limit their deployment to particular parts of the country or prevent them from taking on certain tasks.
Leaders of member countries hope to address more of the alliance's weaknesses at the summit, including serious transport deficiencies. Some members have agreed to buy the alliance four C-17 transport planes, according to U.S. officials.