NATO members in Europe, Canada to raise defense spending by $12B in 2017

Published 28.06.2017 15:12
NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg holds a press conference in Brussels, June 28, 2017. (AA Photo)
NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg holds a press conference in Brussels, June 28, 2017. (AA Photo)

Europe's NATO members and Canada will jointly raise defense spending by 4.3 percent in 2017, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday, partly aimed at showing the United States they are committed to shouldering more costs.

U.S. President Donald Trump has made more expenditure his priority for NATO, using his first alliance meeting in May to scold European leaders about spending, which is at historical lows and does not meet NATO's goal of 2 percent of GDP.

This year's increase represents the fastest spending growth since cuts stopped three years ago. Growth was 1.8 percent in 2015 and 3.3 percent last year, but it was unclear how near the new increase takes spending to the alliance's target.

Figures for individual allies will be released on Thursday, after approval by NATO ambassadors, but overall 2017 spending will be some $280 billion, a cumulative $46 billion jump since cuts left Europe without vital capabilities, such as refueling airborne fighter bombers.

Only four of NATO's 27 European members - Greece, Britain, Poland and Estonia - met the spending target in 2016. Romania will do so this year, followed by Latvia and Lithuania in 2018, Stoltenberg said.

Twenty five of NATO's 29 allies plan to lift spending this year, he said, a day before NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels to discuss greater security spending on rising threats including deterring a resurgent Russia, dealing with failed states on its borders and protecting against cyber-attacks.

"To keep our nations safe, we need to keep working to increase defense spending and fairer burden-sharing across our alliance," Stoltenberg said.

The new figures are part of a broader rise in military spending in Europe, as the United States commits billions more dollars to return troops and heavy weaponry to the continent to deter Russia, and as the European Union seeks to set up a multi-billion-euro defense fund.

"We have really shifted gears, the trend is up and we intend to keep it up," Stoltenberg said.

He said the increase in funds would be spent on more military exercises and equipment, partly aimed at allowing NATO troops to deploy at ever faster notice, as well as salaries and pensions for personnel.

NATO officials stressed that while Trump's tough stance had put the spotlight on defense spending, Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in 2014 had a bigger impact, with allies agreeing to end years of defense cuts.

Trump's comments caused consternation among many, notably Germany, but Stoltenberg said the president's demands were understandable given the challenges the US-led alliance now faces.

"I welcome the strong focus of Trump on spending and defense burden sharing," he said.

"At the same time, I also underline that allies should invest more in defense not to please the United States but because it is in their own interest and they have made the commitment."

Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, recalled that the 28 allies had pledged at a 2014 summit in Wales to increase defense spending to the equivalent of two percent of annual economic output within a decade.

That move, pushed by then president Barack Obama in response to the Ukraine crisis and a more aggressive Russia, had halted and reversed years of defense cuts, Stoltenberg said.

In 2015, the allies turned the corner with an increase of 1.8 percent overall, pushed that to 3.3 percent in 2016 and now looked to go further again this year, he said.

In all, the three years represented an overall increase of $46 billion dollars, boosting NATO's ability to face the Russian challenge in Europe and new threats such as terrorism linked to Daesh and its affiliated groups across the Middle East and North Africa.

The United States accounts for about 70 percent of combined NATO defense spending and Washington has pushed the allies for years to do more to ease the burden.

Trump, however, has pressed hardest of all, putting the allies on the back foot by dubbing NATO "obsolete" and questioning the wisdom of the US security commitment if they failed to live up to their side of the bargain.

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