HALIFAX, Nova Scotia—U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a gathering of NATO allies on Friday that the United States will not use its financial problems as an excuse to walk away from alliances, but that other countries must share the burden of maintaining global security.
In the speech at the Halifax International Security Forum, Panetta said terrorism, nuclear proliferation and other threats demand a shared response and can't be addressed effectively by any one nation alone.
"We must and we will sharpen the application of our resources, better deploy our forces in the world and share our burdens more and more effectively with our partners and frankly all of our allies need to do the same," Panetta said.
The Pentagon is facing at least $450 billion in budget cuts over the next 10 years, forcing defense officials to reshape the U.S. military's presence and priorities around the world, while not giving up America's status as a global power.
The spending reductions could more than double, however, if members of Congress fail to produce a $1.2 trillion deficit-cutting plan by Nov. 23.
Panetta has repeatedly argued against major cuts, saying the Pentagon would have to consider slashing programs across the board including commitments to European missile defense, weapons development, shipbuilding and personnel.
Such a large cut, he has told Congress, would leave the military with the smallest ground force since 1940, lead to possible months-long furloughs of civilian employees and force the Pentagon to recalibrate its national security strategy to accept "substantial risk.
"The reality is that the U.S. military alone cannot be all things to all nations," Panetta said.
Panetta said NATO needs to develop new capabilities to keep pace with emerging threats even in an era of fiscal austerity. NATO has key shortfalls in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and in precision strike munitions, he said, and to fill the gaps allied nations need to pool their declining defense dollars.
"These challenging economic times cannot be an excuse for walking away from our security responsibilities. I refuse to believe that we have to choose between fiscal responsibility and national security," he said.
Panetta said the U.S. alliance system remains the bedrock of the American approach to security across the globe and an enduring strategic advantage and force multiplier that that no rival has.
Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay is hosting the annual forum whose participants include defense ministers and security officials from France, England, Belgium, Israel and other nations.