European countries need to reverse recent cuts in defence spending if their plans for new peace-keeping and intervention forces are to have any credibility, according to senior NATO officials.

Speaking at the FT World Aerospace Conference, prior to Farnborough 2000, Robert Ball, NATO's Assistant Secretary General for Defence Support, says European governments have to significantly increase in spending, "if they want to have their cake and eat it."

Over the past year European Union countries have launched their new European Defence and Security Policy (EDSP) and announced the "headline goal" is to form a 50,000-60,000 strong peacekeeping force capable of operating independent of NATO. The Defence Capabilities Initiative (DCI) has also been launched to identify and rectify short-comings in European military forces. "The DCI has made solid progress," says Bell. "Much heavy lifting remains to be done. "

At a recent NATO defence ministers meeting many agreed member states need to adhere to the UK's decision last week to increase defence spending. You can't get defence on the cheap. I have no doubt allies are serious about increasing defence capabilities. Europe can not afford to fail. Extra costs of the headline goal' force will prove more substantial than many European governments realise. You can't achieve this through a force identification process only, your need up front investment in a host of areas - precision guided munitions, strategic lift and command, control, communications and intelligence. "There will be no benefit if Europe spends only on big ticket items and not on readiness. This will just create hollow armies".

NATO spokesman, Jamie Shea, says if some NATO countries do not spend more they will not be able to contribute to the alliance. "This is not just a trans-Atlantic problem, there are also major differences in defence spending within Europe," he says. "In the past when you've had a major operation you have to raid Peter to pay Paul. We need a vision for the future."

Source: Flight Daily News