By Anthony Deutsch
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Top Dutch auditors, backed by the government, have called on NATO to be more transparent about its finances, asserting that hundreds of millions of euros in annual spending at the military alliance cannot be properly accounted for.
The Netherlands Court of Audit, an independent organization which reviews government spending, said on a website launched Tuesday that NATO's financial management "is not in order" and it wanted a wider debate about its spending.
The push for more financial accountability comes at a time when the Ukraine crisis has compelled the alliance to refocus on its core mission of defending members after years in which its main effort has been far away in Afghanistan.
NATO faces calls from Kiev for help in overcoming political turmoil and requests by Eastern European nations to station troops along the Russian border, which Moscow opposes.
NATO has made clear it has no plans to get involved militarily in Ukraine but it has sent fighter aircraft and ships to eastern Europe to reassure NATO allies alarmed by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
It has also urged European states to raise defense spending.
"NATO gives hardly any account to the public of its non-military expenses," the Court of Audit said in a statement. "There is therefore no clear answer to the question: is NATO delivering value for the taxpayers’ money?"
The NATO budget for military, civilian and investment projects was 2.4 billion euros ($3.27 billion) in 2013, according to accounts posted on the NATO website, the audit board said.
But it was "not possible, however, to retrieve further detailed information from publicly available sources about the amount member countries spent on various NATO entities and missions and for what purpose," it said.
The NATO spokeswoman said the organization's budget is continuously audited by the independent International Board of Auditors for NATO.
"NATO is always mindful of how taxpayers' money is being spent in the interest of our shared security, and NATO allies maintain full control of the level of expenses and how the money is being spent," said Oana Lungescu.
In July, NATO will begin publishing the budgets of all unclassified reports on a case-by-case basis, following a 2012 decision to increase transparency, she said.
The Dutch audit board said it realized NATO had confidential activities which it cannot make public, but encouraged it to publish consolidated financial statements and details about deliveries and investments.
The Netherlands directly contributed 77.5 million euros ($105 million) to NATO in 2013, in addition to an unspecified contribution to NATO funds and missions, the board said.
NATO's top military commander in Europe said last month more members of the NATO alliance should boost their defense spending toward the agreed target of 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).
According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the Netherlands' defense spending amounted to 1.3 percent on GDP in 2013.
($1 = 0.7345 Euros)
(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)