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Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks before an audience of sailors at the Navy base in Naples, Italy, on June 11, 2015, as Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, and Dempsey's wife, Deanie Dempsey, watch from the stage.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks before an audience of sailors at the Navy base in Naples, Italy, on June 11, 2015, as Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, and Dempsey's wife, Deanie Dempsey, watch from the stage. (Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes)

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks before an audience of sailors at the Navy base in Naples, Italy, on June 11, 2015, as Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, and Dempsey's wife, Deanie Dempsey, watch from the stage.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks before an audience of sailors at the Navy base in Naples, Italy, on June 11, 2015, as Adm. Mark Ferguson, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, and Dempsey's wife, Deanie Dempsey, watch from the stage. (Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes)

Adm. Mark Ferguson, left, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, says goodbye to Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, following Dempsey's remarks to an audience of sailors at the Navy base in Naples, Italy, on June 11, 2015.

Adm. Mark Ferguson, left, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, says goodbye to Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, following Dempsey's remarks to an audience of sailors at the Navy base in Naples, Italy, on June 11, 2015. (Steven Beardsley/Stars and Stripes)

NAPLES — The U.S. needs to push more NATO allies to increase defense spending, the top U.S. military officer told a group of sailors here Thursday.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said the alliance needed to “harden” itself, in part by continuing efforts to preposition equipment across the region.

“All of which is to make it very clear to the Russian federation that it may have had success in Eastern Europe or in countries who aren’t NATO allies, but they won’t have that success with NATO allies,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey’s comments followed a study by the Pew Research Center that raised questions about Europeans’ commitment to the alliance’s bedrock principle that an attack on one is an attack on all. The study found that more than half the public in Germany, Italy and France doesn’t support using military force in response to a Russian attack on a NATO member.

The issue of Russian activity in Europe is a relevant one for this base, where Navy commanders have increased ship deployments to northern Europe and the Black Sea in an effort to reassure allies. Adm. Mark Ferguson, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa sat on stage next to Dempsey.

Dempsey also said that the U.S. is on the right path in Iraq and does not need to deploy ground troops to the front lines.

Dempsey gave those assurances a day after the Obama administration announced it would send 450 more troops to train and assist Iraqi forces and help integrate Sunni Muslim tribes fighting to push the Islamic State group out of key cities in western Anbar province.

En route to Naples, where he stopped briefly as part of an overseas tour, Dempsey told reporters traveling with him that the U.S. might establish more bases in Iraq following the model of the Taqaddum air base in Anbar province, where the troops announced Wednesday will be based.

Critics of the administration’s approach in Iraq say American troops should be sent to the front lines, including special operators and spotters for airstrikes. Dempsey told several hundred sailors in Naples that Iraqis instead needed to show responsibility for leading the fight themselves.

“I’m not portraying for you that this is going to be easy or quick, but we’ve got the right outcome identified,” he said. “Now we have to navigate our way toward it.”

Dempsey took questions on the budget and cyber security. He said The chairman arrived in Naples from Jerusalem, where he met with military leaders. He travels to London on Friday for meetings with French and British counterparts.

Dempsey’s term as chairman is drawing to a close. The officer nominated to succeed him, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, will seek Senate confirmation in the coming months.

beardsley.steven@stripes.com Twitter: @sjbeardsley

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