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Hagel says Europeans should step up NATO support

BRUSSELS — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday European allies must start bearing more of the burden of modernizing NATO or risk it becoming irrelevant.

In remarks to the opening of a two-day defense ministers meeting at NATO headquarters, Hagel said the current path of declining European defense investment is not sustainable.

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‘‘As European economies recover, leaders must make the case for renewed investment in military capability,’’ he said. ‘‘The current path is not sustainable. Our alliance can endure only as long as we are willing to fight for it, and invest in it.’’

He added, ‘‘If the alliance is to remain effective, adaptable, and relevant, rebalancing NATO’s burden-sharing and capabilities is mandatory — not elective.’’

Hagel’s remarks echoed warnings from his predecessors going back to the days of the Cold War. What is different now is that NATO is emerging this year from its first-ever protracted land war, in Afghanistan, whose costs and hardships create questions for many Europeans about the future role of the alliance.

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