NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg provided the press with a preview of subjects for discussion at this year’s Defense Ministerial, slated to begin on Thursday in Brussels. Among the topics up for discussion, Stoltenberg explained, are how the alliance is evolving and, a topic of serious concern for the United States, how funding is expected to increase.
The Defense Ministerial, which will see American Secretary of Defense James Mattis representing the United States, is supposed to compliment the NATO Heads of State and Government meetings held last month, in which state leaders agreed to step up the alliance’s efforts against terrorism, as well as work to more fairly share the financial burdens of the organization. NATO’s guidelines require that each member state devote no less than two percent of its national GDP (gross domestic product) to defense, though only five of the now 29 members actually do so – with the United States serving as the largest spender by far.
NATO’s newest member, Montenegro, joined the alliance earlier this month, despite already failing to meet the financial requirement for membership.
“After years of decline, in 2015 we saw a real increase in defense spending across European allies and Canada,” Stoltenberg said. “In 2016, this continued. And, this year in 2017, we foresee an even greater annual real increase of 4.3 percent.”
The Secretary General went on to claim an overall increase in combined defense spending from European allies and Canada that has nearly reached $46 billion over the last three years. He acknowledged that only five members of NATO met their minimum spending requirements last year, but noted that he expects three more to meet that goal be the end of the coming fiscal year. The only five members to currently meet their fiscal obligations are the United States, Estonia, the United Kingdom, Poland and Greece.
“This year, we expect Romania to join them and in 2018, Latvia and Lithuania will spend 2 percent of GDP on defense as well,” Stoltenberg said. “Allies’ national plans will ensure we maintain the momentum.”
That funding will go toward new capability targets Stoltenberg anticipates will be hashed out during this week’s Ministerial.
“These set out areas where we plan to improve further, including heavy equipment, air-to-air refueling and more forces able to move at even shorter notice,” he said. “As NATO develops capabilities, it is important to make the most of limited resources and avoid duplication. That’s one reason why NATO and the European Union are working more closely together than ever before.”
Prompted by concerns about the potential for waning American support of NATO, the European Union has been moving forward with the establishment of a joint European defense fund, thought by many within the Union and outside of it to be a precursor to a joint European military body. Stoltenberg said he will be briefing defense ministers on his plan for NATO-EU cooperation moving forward.
“The report sets out how our organizations are working together on issues ranging from resilience to hybrid threats and support for partners,” he said. “We will look into further ways to expand our cooperation by the end of this year.”
Image courtesy of the Department of Defense