More than 20 Nato members will meet the alliance’s target of allocating at least 2% of GDP to defence this year, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday, highlighting how allies have raised military spending since Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Speaking to the Wilson Centre think-thank in Washington, Stoltenberg said that the number of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) allies now meeting that spending target compares to less than 10 members five years ago.
“I can only now reveal that this year more than 20 allies will spend at least 2% of GDP on defence,” Stoltenberg said.
“This is good for Europe and good for America, especially since much of this extra money is spent here in the United States,” he said, adding that in the last two years, more than two-thirds of Europe’s defence acquisitions – or more than $140bn – were from US firms.
Stoltenberg was in Washington for preparations for next month’s Nato summit in the US capital and was scheduled to meet President Joe Biden later.
Stoltenberg said that when Nato leaders set the 2% of GDP target at their summit in 2014, only three members – the United States, Greece and Britain – met that target.
At that time, there were 28 members. Nato now has 32 members.
Meeting with reporters after his appearance, Stoltenberg said the trend in increased military spending by Nato members was triggered by Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014.
“This started well before the full-fledged invasion of Ukraine” in 2022, he said.
Nato defence spending has become highly contentious in recent years, particularly as former US president Donald Trump has accused Europeans of spending too little on their own security and relying on the United States for protection.
Earlier this year, Trump – the presumptive Republican candidate in this year’s US presidential election – sparked outrage by suggesting that he would not protect Nato members that failed to spend enough on defence and would even encourage Russia to attack them.
Defence spending by many European nations has risen sharply since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and Nato officials have been keen to stress that its European members are now stepping up to the plate.
Nato defence spending will be a major topic at next month’s alliance summit in Washington, Stoltenberg said, followed by Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine.
He warned that the delay in the provision of US military aid to Ukraine that occurred earlier this year cannot be allowed to happen again.
Noting how China has been a source of critical support to Russia but also seeks to maintain good relations with the West, Stoltenberg said: “Beijing cannot have it both ways. Unless China changes course, allies need to impose a cost.”
He accused China of worsening the conflict through what US officials say is a major export push to rebuild Russia’s defence industry.
President Xi Jinping “has tried to create the impression that he is taking a back seat in this conflict, to avoid sanctions and keep trade flowing”, Stoltenberg said. “But the reality is that China is fuelling the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II, and at the same time, it wants to maintain good relations with the West.”
China argues that it is not sending lethal assistance to either side – unlike the United States and other Western nations.
Stoltenberg said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit this week to North Korea, which has supplied shells to Moscow despite being under UN sanctions, further showed how Moscow was “dependent” on authoritarian leaders.
Beijing steered clear of a weekend summit in Switzerland promoted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that reaffirmed Kyiv’s demands for Russia to leave Ukrainian territory for any peace.
Russia has insisted that it is interested in talks, but has demanded Ukrainian forces withdraw from territory seized by Moscow.
Trump – who in the past has voiced admiration for Putin – has boasted that he can quickly end the war, likely by pressing Ukraine to accept demands.
In an unstated effort to “Trump-proof” future efforts, Stoltenberg wants the Washington summit both to put Nato in the lead of co-ordination on Ukraine and to set up a way for long-term military funding.
“The more credible our long-term support, the quicker Moscow will realise it cannot wait us out,” he said. “It may seem like a paradox, but the path to peace is more weapons for Ukraine.”
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