BRUSSELS: More European allies in NATO increased defense spending in 2018, with sharp rises in the Baltics, Poland and the Netherlands, but only six governments met a target sought by the United States – while Germany lagged and Canadian outlays fell. European allies have tried to deflect threats from U.S. President Donald Trump, who last year demanded countries double NATO’s defense spending goal of two percent of economic output. They say security is not just about spending targets.
NATO’s 2018 annual report showed on Thursday that the U.S.-led alliance moved closer to a pledge to dedicate 2 percent of national economic output on defense every year, with European allies reaching the 1.51 percent level, a five-year high. “We face a paradox,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference as the report was released. “At a time when some are questioning the strength of the transatlantic bond, we are actually doing more together … than ever before.” Trump, as the alliance’s de facto leader, has made defense spending a priority after years of defense cuts following the 1945-90 Cold War. He has questioned NATO’s value to Washington.
While spending in Bulgaria, the Baltics and the Netherlands jumped some 20 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, only Estonia, Greece, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Britain met the 2 percent goal last year, although Riga and Vilnius joined the group. Romania is also close to reaching to target. But spending in Canada fell by almost 11 percent last year. COSTLY CRISES European governments have been pushed into more funding for militaries by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, failing states on NATO’s outer borders, Islamist militancy and Trump’s demands that allies take a bigger share of the cost of defending Europe. But growing economies have made meeting the 2 percent target, and mollifying Trump, more challenging. —Reuters