Ukraine war set to prompt NATO countries to raise military spending


NATO members outside the US are set to boost their military spending following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and pledges from member countries.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 30 countries have in the past year increased their military spending by roughly 2% overall, according to the alliance’s annual report released Thursday. Of NATO members’ roughly $1 trillion in total military spending this year, the U.S. accounts for almost 70%.

The other 29 states are gradually increasing spending, but most are still lagging behind their commitments. Following Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, NATO members pledged to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024.

Only eight countries, including the U.S., already cross the 2% threshold, according to NATO’s report, a decline from the previous annual report, in which 11 countries met the target. The percentages are subject to changes in both defense budgets and to economic activity, which has been buffeted by the coronavirus pandemic over the past two years.

But Germany and other countries that fall short have recently announced new plans to increase military spending following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

“I think what we see now…across the alliance is a new sense of urgency,” said Mr. Stoltenberg. A former Norwegian prime minister, Mr. Stoltenberg said it is hard for governments to allocate more money for defense. “But when we see a new security reality, we all realize the need to invest in our security,” he said.

Mr. Stoltenberg said NATO members would soon submit new spending plans in preparation for a summit in June in Madrid.

NATO military spending hit a post-Cold War low around 2014, even as its membership grew. After Russia occupied Crimea and fomented rebellion in Ukraine’s east, NATO members began rebuilding the alliance’s defenses, particularly along its eastern edge. Member countries started rotating troops through Poland and the Baltic states, which border Russia and Belarus, a Moscow ally.

While the alliance strengthened its military posture, its political direction drifted amid internal disputes and criticism from former President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump savaged European members for failing to meet their spending commitments, declined to endorse the alliance’s core mutual-defense pledge and obliquely threatened to pull the U.S. from NATO.

President Biden has repeatedly stressed the U.S.’s commitment to the alliance, most recently at a summit at its headquarters last week and on a visit to Warsaw.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s announcement last month that Germany would shed years of reticence about military spending and soon exceed NATO’s 2% target set a new tone for defense-budget discussions in the alliance. Germany currently spends less than 1.5% of its GDP on defense, according to NATO’s report. Since the country has Europe’s largest economy, an increase in military spending of more than 0.5 percentage point of its GDP would make a significant difference in NATO’s total European outlays.

The overall picture should become clearer at the June summit, when NATO is likely to update its financial figures.

The data released Thursday represent the seventh consecutive year of rising defense expenditures by Canada and European members of the alliance. “Allies are moving in the right direction,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, NATO for the first time in years activated its emergency response plan and agreed to establish four new battle groups in its southeast, to complement the deployments in Poland and the Baltics. The new battle groups will be in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, all of which share land borders with Ukraine or face Russia across the Black Sea.

NATO members are now also for the first time considering permanently stationing troops in members that joined after the end of the Cold War and were once Soviet satellites. Under an agreement struck between NATO and Russia in 1997, the alliance had agreed not to permanently station troops in those countries. NATO leaders say that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rendered that agreement void, so the alliance can now deploy troops as it sees fit.


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