BRUSSELS ― NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says allies have stopped cuts in defense spending and started to increase burden-sharing, something U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for.
Stoltenberg was speaking on the first day of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, which comes ahead of a NATO summit in the city in July.
"All allies have stopped the cuts, all have started to increase and the majority of allies have put forward plans on how to meet the 2 percent, or spend 2 percent on defense, by 2024,” he said. “I welcome the fact that Germany has stopped cuts, Germany has started to increase and also the plans to increase German defense spending by 80 percent over a decade.”
Washington wants NATO allies to increase military spending and thus reduce the burden placed on the U.S., the alliance’s biggest member in terms of defense spending.
Trump has pushed for all 29 NATO members to increase their military budgets to meet a target of 2 percent of economic output spent on defense every year by 2024. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a recent visit to Brussels, also called on allies to raise military budgets.
Calling defense investment “a matter of fairness” and “security in a more unpredictable world”, Stoltenberg said: “We are going in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.”
Burden-sharing is not just about cash but also about capabilities and contributions, the former Norwegian prime minister said, adding that here, too, the trend is up.
“Allies are investing more in major equipment and increasing their contributions to NATO mission, so we have turned a corner,” he said.
At the two-day meeting ― the first in the alliance’s new headquarters and just five weeks from the Brussels summit ― ministers are expected to make a series of decisions on the NATO command structure and military readiness, discuss plans for a NATO training mission in Iraq, and review progress in achieving more defense spending and better burden-sharing.
They will also discuss defense capacity-building support for Jordan, and consider what more NATO can do to help the troubled government of Tunisia.
On the command structure, Stoltenberg said he anticipates leadership will agree to a boost of more than 1,200 personnel. “I also expect we will agree that our new Joint Force Command for the Atlantic will be based at Norfolk in the United States and that our new Enabling Command will be based in Ulm in Germany.”
Stoltenberg also said allies are expected to agree on a NATO Readiness Initiative, otherwise known as the “Four Thirties.” This would mean allies have, by 2020, 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat vessels ready within 30 days or less.
“This is not about setting up or deploying new forces. It is about boosting the readiness of existing forces,” he said.
On Friday, allies will hold a joint session with European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, Finland and Sweden to review NATO-EU cooperation and ways to ensure complementary defense efforts between the two organizations.
Mogherini will update NATO alllies on recent developments at the EU level to strengthen European defense ― in particular on military mobility ― and ways to best ensure efforts by NATO and the EU benefit both parties. The just-launched €5.5 billion (U.S. $6.5 billion) European Defence Industrial Development Programme will also be debated.
The ministerial will close Friday with a session on Afghanistan, together with partners contributing to the Resolute Support mission. On this, Stoltenberg said: “Allies and partners are stepping up ― with both forces and funding.”
He said about 3,000 more trainers have been added to the mission, and that discussions are underway to extend funding for the Afghan forces beyond 2020.
Speaking at a briefing ahead of the meeting, Stoltenberg welcomed the increased U.S. presence in Europe, despite what he called “serious disagreements” between the two sides on “serious issues,” including trade.
“I agree that there are differences related to issues like trade, the Iran nuclear deal, environmental issues and climate change. We also see some differences within Europe regarding the future direction of Europe. But then we have to remember that it’s nothing new,” Stoltenberg said.
He also rejected calls by Italy, among others, to lift economic sanctions against Russia, but added that NATO did want to “isolate” Moscow.
Stoltenberg also told reporters that decisions taken at the ministerial meeting “will ensure that the summit strengthens our alliance for years to come.”
Martin Banks covered the European Union, NATO and affairs in Belgium for Defense News.