The head of Nato has urged member countries to stop cutting their defence budgets in response to tough economic times, saying continued reductions will compromise the safety of all of the alliance's 28 members.
"It is of course a matter of concern that we have seen and continue to see declining defence budgets all over the alliance," Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on his way into a two-day meeting of Nato defence ministers in Brussels.
"My appeal to governments is, firstly, hold the line, stop the cuts," Mr Fogh Rasmussen said. "Secondly, make more efficient use of the resources we do have, through more multinational co-operation. And thirdly, once the economies recover, start to increase defence investments again."
The defence secretaries will consider ways for their countries to co-operate more effectively on defence procurement to get the most value for the money being spent.
Mr Fogh Rasmussen said that, in this time of austerity, it is essential for nations to get the best value for taxpayers' money - and working together is the best way to do that.
In addition, the ministers are expected to discuss the role Nato troops will play in Afghanistan once they withdraw from combat and focus instead on training, advising and assisting Afghan forces. But few firm decisions are expected at the meeting, which Nato officials have describes as mostly devoted to taking stock of developments.
Pentagon officials said that US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who arrived at the meeting today, will warn Nato allies that Washington's fiscal impasse will have repercussions abroad, as impending budget cuts force the military to scale back its training and presence overseas.
US officials have long urged that the burden of mutual defence be shared more equitably. A senior Nato official pointed out this week that the US still spends 4.3% of its gross domestic product, while most European countries are dropping below 1.5%.