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NATO chief urges European nations to boost defense spending

April 4, 2017

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that Germany and other European nations should increase their defense budget. He said the increase was not about pacifying Donald Trump, but a matter of geography.

Deutschland Kampfpanzer vom Typ Leopard
Image: Getty Images/AFP/C. Stache

In an interview with German business newspaper Handelsblatt, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said that European countries needed to invest more in defense to reach the target expenditure of 2 percent of gross domestic product, set by NATO in 2006.

The move is not to satisfy US President Donald Trump, Stoltenberg said. Earlier this year, Trump called NATO "obsolete" and suggested that members of the alliance would need to spend more on their own defense to warrant Washington's security guarantees.

It is because of Europe's close proximity to areas of conflict including Russia, Syria and Iraq, that boosting defense expenditure is essential, the NATO chief said.

"After the end of the Cold War, it was right to cut defense spending," Stoltenberg told Handelsblatt. "But if we reduce spending when tensions are going down, we also must be able to increase defense spending when tensions are going up - and now they are going up."

Stoltenberg's comments follow US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's first remarks to NATO ministers last Friday. While Tillerson reassured his European counterparts that the US remains committed to NATO, he also urged them again to spend more on defense to demonstrate that they share Washington's commitment.

US defense spending makes up about 70 percent of the NATO allies' total defense expenditure. Only four European alliance members - Estonia, Greece, Poland and Britain - meet the two-percent target.

German military expenditure currently sits at just over 1.2 percent of the country's economic output; it's rising year on year but only by comparatively small increments. The government has said it is committed to increasing defense spending "because we know it is necessary and makes sense to further strengthen our armed forces," government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Germany balks at new US call for NATO spending hike

But German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said it was neither "reachable nor desirable" for Germany to spend two percent of its GDP on defense, and that humanitarian, development and economic aid to stabilize regions should also count. 

"Two percent would mean military expenses of some 70 billion euros. I don't know any German politician who would claim that is reachable nor desirable," he said last week.

A Social Democrat colleague of Gabriel's, MP Hans-Peter Bartels who specializes in military policy, recently suggested 1.5 percent of GDP as a more realistic target for German military spending.

Stoltenberg also said in Monday's interview that he does not think Brexit negotiations between Britain and the EU would endanger the military alliance.

"The negotiations between the EU and Great Britain are a tremendous challenge that I in no way underestimate," he said. However, Great Britain's withdrawal from the EU "will not change relations in NATO."