Thu, Jul 05, 2018 - Page 7 News List

NATO allies defend military spending

US FRUSTRATION:Trump has sent letters of complaint to NATO allies and said they should do more to meet their shared goal of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense

AP, BRUSSELS

NATO allies are pushing back against US criticism that they are not spending enough on defense, as US President Donald Trump ratchets up pressure ahead of a summit next week.

In the few weeks before the summit in Brussels, which is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday next week, Trump sent letters to Norway, other European allies and Canada demanding that they boost defense spending.

After Russia annexed the Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, NATO allies that year agreed to end defense budget cuts, start spending more as their economies grew and move toward a goal of 2 percent of GDP for defense spending within a decade.

“Norway stands by its decision of the NATO Summit in 2014 and is following up on this,” Norwegian Minister of Defense Frank Bakke-Jensen said on Tuesday an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Norway has spent “far beyond” NATO’s target on new military equipment, he added.

“We stand by the 2 percent goal we’ve set,” German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen said. “We’re on the path there and we’re prepared ... to take substantial responsibility within the alliance.”

When faced with the suggestion that such German explanations for not spending 2 percent of GDP yet might not make an impression on Trump, she said: “We don’t want to impress anyone.”

The NATO summit is the first major meeting since the fractious G7 talks in Canada last month.

NATO officials are concerned that trans-Atlantic divisions over trade tariffs and the US pullout from the Paris global climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal could undermine alliance unity.

In a letter to Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, dated June 19, Trump wrote that despite her country’s important role in the alliance Norway “remains the only NATO ally sharing a border with Russia that lacks a credible plan to spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense.”

The stance was repeated in a similar letter to Belgium, where Trump said it would “become increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries continue to fail to meet our shared collective security commitments.”

Trump dressed down his NATO counterparts last year, publicly berating them for not spending enough and claiming they owe the US money. When he first came to office he even suggested that the US might not protect countries that do not pull their weight.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel played down the importance of the letter he received, saying it was “typical” of things sent ahead of meetings like the NATO summit.

“I am not too intimidated by this type of mail,” he said, adding that Belgium is doing its part in the military alliance.

Despite the political rhetoric from the Trump administration, the 2 percent figure does not concern spending on NATO and no one owes the alliance or any ally money. It is about the size of national defense budgets only.

Yet the US spends more on defense than all the others combined — 3.61 percent of GDP in 2016, or about US$664 billion. That is about two thirds of total spending on national budgets, NATO estimates showed.

“The president has publicly shared his frustration that he’d like to see other countries step up and do more, particularly when they have the capability and they’ve made the commitment to do 2 percent. He’d like to see them fulfill that commitment,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

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