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NATO defense spending moving in 'right direction,' says Stoltenberg

NATO member states have continued to cut back on defense spending, but at a slower rate, said NATO's Stoltenberg. His statement comes as the 28-nation alliance mulls a US request for AWACS surveillance aircraft.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on Thursday announced that defense spending among the alliance's members was moving in the "right direction" despite the sixth consecutive year of cuts.

"Over the past year, we have started to move in the right direction," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels at the release of his 2015 annual report.

"After many years of substantial reductions in defense spending, the cuts now have practically stopped among European allies and Canada," the NATO chief noted, adding that tensions remained in the east after Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

At least 16 member states increased expenditures, while 23 of them boosted spending on tanks, planes and other military hardware, Stoltenberg said.

European alliance members spent only 0.3 percent less on defense in 2015, compared to a 0.9-percent dip the previous year.

The NATO chief added that five countries met the target of spending two percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense, as opposed to three member states in 2014. The countries comprised Britain, Poland, Estonia, Greece and the US.

Germany's defense spending was nearly unchanged year-on-year, with NATO citing 1.18 percent of national GDP in 2015, according to its calculations. Germany's official government figure differs, but only marginally at 1.16 percent.

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NATO mulls deploying AWACS aircraft | DW

AWACS up in the air

Stoltenberg's statement comes as NATO considers a US request for AWACS surveillance aircraft to aid the fight against the so-called "Islamic State" in Syria and Iraq.

He told reporters that "we are now looking into that request," adding that a decision would have to be taken by all 28 nations in the alliance, including Germany.

With approximately 30 percent of the personnel manning the AWACS aircraft being German, the country's parliament must approve of the operations - as with any deployment of German service personnel abroad.

On Tuesday, German military ombudsman Hans-Peter Bartels told lawmakers in Berlin that the country's defense forces were stretched the limit, calling for an increase to the defense budget after reports that the military's equipment was outdated.

ls/msh (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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