BRUSSELS -- NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has warned against further defense spending cuts by alliance member states.
Speaking on February 21 at the end of the first day of a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers, Rasmussen said such reductions would weaken the alliance in the future.
"We also need a sufficient level of defense investment and that's my major concern that if [defense budget] cuts continue it will damage severely our ability to meet and address the future security challenges," Rasmussen said.
With member states squeezed financially, Rasmussen also advised NATO governments to share more resources.
"Multinational cooperation and smart defense are an important part of a response to economic austerity. No doubt that we can save money if we join efforts, if we pool and share resources, if we go for more multinational cooperation," Rasmussen said.
"But obviously there is also a limit as to how much we can achieve that way and this is the reason why more multinational cooperation doesn't solve all our problems and is not a response to all our challenges."
He said that once economies recover, alliance members should start to increase defense investment again.
Media reports on February 21 said that NATO officials are strongly considering keeping Afghan forces at their peak level of 352,000 until at least 2018 -- a move which could cost NATO billions of dollars more. NATO-led forces plan to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Asked by journalists about the proposal, Rasmussen said that no final decision has been made. But he argued that the move would cost less than keeping alliance forces there.
"I think it's easy to make the case that it's better to finance Afghan security forces than to deploy international troops. From [a] political point of view it's better to give [the] defense of Afghanistan an Afghan face and from an economic point of view it is actually less expensive to finance Afghan security forces than to deploy foreign troops," Rasmussen said.
The United States this year is providing $5.7 billion of the $6.5 billion cost to field the Afghan forces, which are nearly at peak strength.
Earlier on February 21, Rasmussen said he expects the size and scope of the future NATO-led training mission in the country will be finalized in the coming months.
Rasmussen also confirmed that a June summit on Afghanistan was being considered to try and identify more of the post-2014 details.
With reporting Reuters and AP