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NATO chief: 'Dangerous world' demands defense spending boost

Alex Berry
March 21, 2023

The alliance has presented its review of the past year which was dominated by war in Ukraine. General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg named Russia as NATO's biggest threat.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Jens Stoltenberg postponed plans to step down from his role as NATO secretary general following the full-scale Russian invasion of UkraineImage: Jonas Ekstromer/TT News Agency/AP/picture alliance

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg presented the alliance's annual report for 2022 during a press conference held at its headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday.

The report covers various challenges threatening NATO members over the past year with the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine — which began last February — dominating the agenda.

The alliance of primarily western countries has given much of its focus over the past 12 months to supporting Ukraine in its defense, with NATO members sending aid, weapons and ammunition and training Ukrainian soldiers.

But 2022 also saw tensions arise as member state Turkey has so far blocked the accession of Sweden to the alliance, while only last week saying it will give the go-ahead for Finland to join.

Russia and Ukraine dominate speech

"(Russian President Vladimir) Putin made a big strategic mistake when he invaded Ukraine… he thought he could break NATO unity but NATO allies are standing strong and united and providing unprecedented support to Ukraine," Stoltenberg said as he opened the press conference.

"He wanted less NATO, but he has got exactly the opposite, he has got more NATO." He pointed to the accession of Finland, which will double NATO's border with Russia.

"The most important thing is that both Finland and Sweden become full NATO members quickly," Stoltenberg said while acknowledging Turkey's objections. 

Turkey agrees to Finland's NATO membership

Stoltenberg also discussed the peace proposal put forward by China, saying it "includes some positive aspects and elements which I support," pointing in particular to the issue of territorial integrity.

"A cease-fire or any solution that doesn't respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine will only be a way to freeze the war and to ensure that Russia can reconstitute, regroup and reattack," he said, adding that any peace deal would ultimately be up to Kyiv.

A new 'security environment'

"Even if the war in Ukraine ended tomorrow, the security environment has changed for the long term," the NATO secretary general said.

NATO is now "in the process of agreeing to new capability targets for the production of battle-decisive ammunition and engaging with industry to ramp up production — to support Ukraine against Russia's aggression and for our own defense."

Stoltenberg pointed to a new "strategic concept, the first in a decade, to guide our alliance in an era of strategic competition."

"It identifies Russia as the most significant threat to our security, along with the ongoing threat of terrorism and makes clear that China challenges our interests, security and values."

How Russia's war is testing NATO's resolve

Stoltenberg calls for more spending

Stoltenberg discussed defense spending within the alliance, which he said has increased for the eighth year in a row. "Last year defense spending increased by 2.2% in real terms," he said.

"Many allies have also announced significant defense spending increases since Russia's invasion," Stoltenberg added. "Now these pledges must turn into real cash, contracts and concrete equipment."

The NATO chief said that "defense spending underpins everything we do," adding that while he considers things to be going in the right direction, "we're not moving as fast as the dangerous world we live in demands."

"We need to do more and we need to do it faster," he stressed. "Today's world is as dangerous as at any time since the Second World War. The years to come will be challenging and NATO must continue to rise to the challenge." 

Only seven out of 30 NATO members have met the target of spending at least 2% of GDP on defense, one less than in 2021 before the invasion. But Stoltenberg explained that for at least two of those countries that failed to meet the target, this was "because GDP has increased more than expected."

Edited by: Natalie Muller