Record number of NATO allies meeting their defence spending target amid war in Ukraine
A record 23 of NATO's 32 member nations are hitting the Western military alliance's defence spending target this year, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday. The estimated figure represents an almost fourfold increase from 2021 when only six nations were achieving the goal. This was before Russian President Vladimir Putin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. “Europeans are doing more for their collective security than just a few years ago,” Stoltenberg said in a speech at the Wilson Center research group. After the speech, Stoltenberg met at the White House with President Joe Biden. The US president said the alliance has become “larger, stronger and more united than it's ever been” during Stoltenberg's tenure. Biden spoke affectionately of Stoltenberg, calling him “pal” and saying he wished that Stoltenberg, who has been NATO's secretary general since 2014, could serve another term when the current one expires in October. “Together, we've deterred further Russian aggression in Europe,” Biden said. “We've strengthened NATO's eastern flank ,making it clear that we'll defend every single inch of NATO territory.” NATO members agreed last year to allocate at least 2% of their GDP to defense, with the surge in spending reflecting concerns about the war in Ukraine. Poland, with over 4%, and tiny Estonia, both of which border Russia, lead the United States this year in the percentage of their GDP spent on defence. Defence spending across European allies and Canada was up nearly 18% this year alone, the biggest increase in decades, according to NATO's estimated figures released on Monday. Some countries are also concerned about the possible reelection of former President Donald Trump, who has characterised many NATO allies as freeloading on US military spending and has stated on the campaign trail that he would not defend NATO members failing to meet defence spending targets. "Shifting US administrations have had the absolutely valid point to say that US allies are spending too little,” Stoltenberg told reporters. “The good news is that's changing.” NATO leaders to meet in Washington next month Stoltenberg's visit is laying the groundwork for what's expected to be a pivotal summit of NATO leaders in Washington next month. The mutual defense alliance has grown in strength and size since Russia's invasion of Ukraine two years ago, with both Sweden and Finland joining. Much of the focus of the summit is expected to address what NATO and NATO member governments can do for Ukraine as it faces unrelenting air and ground attacks from its more powerful neighbour. They so far have resisted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's appeals to take his country into the bloc as long as the war is still on. Stoltenberg pointed to efforts to bolster Ukraine in the meantime. That includes NATO streamlining the eventual membership process for Ukraine, and individual NATO nations providing updated arms and training to Ukraine's military, including the US giving it F-16s and bringing Ukrainian pilots to the US for training on the advanced aircraft. “The idea is to move them so close to membership that when the time comes, when there is consensus, they can become a member straight away,” Stoltenberg said. However Russia's offensive concludes, only taking Ukraine into the alliance will dissuade Putin from trying again in the future to conquer Ukraine, the NATO chief said. “When the fighting ends, NATO membership” for Ukraine “assures that the war really ends,” he said.