NATO secretary says two-thirds of alliance will meet defense spending goal amid Trump threats

Trump has previously said he would encourage Russia to ‘do whatever the hell they want’ with countries who didn’t meet the spending goal

Andrew Feinberg
Washington DC
Monday 17 June 2024 21:43 BST
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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a media conference after a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a media conference after a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Friday, June 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) (AP)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday said 23 of the alliance’s 32 member states will spend at least 2 per cent of their respective gross domestic products on defense, meeting a threshold which former president Donald Trump has repeatedly mischaracterized as a prerequisite to receiving American help in a crisis.

Stoltenberg made the announcement during remarks at the Wilson Center in Washington, not long before he was set to meet with President Joe Biden at the White House.

“Europeans are doing more for their collective security than just a few years ago,” he said.

Alongside Biden in the Oval Office a few hours later, Stoltenberg said NATO allies are raising their defense spending by a combined 18 per cent, calling it the biggest such increase “in decades.”

“That's more than twice as many as four years ago, and demonstrates that the European allies and Canada are really stepping up and taking their share of the common responsibility to protect all of us in the NATO alliance,” he said.

Stoltenberg also said it was “important” for the US to remember that the increased defense spending by NATO countries benefits the US defense industrial base because “a lot” of the funds involved are used to buy American-made arms.

“Allies are buying more and more equipment from the US. So NATO is good for US security, but NATO is also good for US jobs,” he said.

The record number of NATO countries meeting the 2 per cent defense spending goal marks a quadrupling from 2021. In that year, only six of the alliance’s members spent that amount, despite it being a longstanding goal of the now 32-member bloc.

But in the years since Biden took office, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has galvanized the Western defensive pact, which is set to hold its 75th annual summit in Washington next month.

Since the invasion of Ukraine, two long-neutral nations — Finland and Sweden — have been admitted to the alliance. Kyiv has also expressed a desire to join at an appropriate time following the resolution of the now two and a half-year-old war with Russia.

The effort by most of the alliance’s members to spend 2 per cent on defense also represents what appears to be a preemptive effort to hedge against an unfavorable American election result should Biden be defeated by his predecessor, former president Donald Trump, when US voters go to the polls in November.

Former officials who served in the White House during Trump’s first term in office have said the then-president repeatedly threatened to pull America out of the North Atlantic Treaty and would seek to carry out that threat in a second term.

In February, Trump bragged of having told NATO heads of state that he “would encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to countries that are “delinquent” in terms of their payments to the alliance.

Speaking at a rally in South Carolina, he told supporters he would let Moscow run rampant over countries that did not, in his estimation, spend enough on their own defense.

“‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’” Trump recalled saying. “‘No I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.’”

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