Nato declares record military spending in Europe in rebuke to Trump

More than half of Nato allies expected to meet 2 per cent target this year

British Army vehicles being loaded on to a ship in preparation for Nato's Steadfast Defender, the biggest war games since the Cold War. AFP
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Nato on Wednesday announced record sums being poured into Europe’s militaries as it seeks to persuade Donald Trump that the US's allies are not shirking their responsibilities.

A record 18 of 31 Nato allies will meet the key goal of spending 2 per cent of their economic might on defence this year, the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, up from six in 2014.

Europe’s 29 Nato members will collectively hit the target by spending $380 billion on their armed forces, he said, amounting to more than 2 per cent of their combined GDP.

The US spent almost $900 billion on defence last year, more than the rest of Nato combined, and the imbalance with European partners has long been one of Mr Trump's prime grievances.

But Mr Trump’s latest comments on the US election campaign trail, suggesting that he would “encourage” Russia to attack delinquent payers if he becomes president again, were regarded as his most alarming yet.

Rebuking Mr Trump without mentioning him by name, Mr Stoltenberg said any hint that Nato’s Article 5 mutual defence pledge no longer holds true weakens the security of its members.

“The whole idea of Nato is that an attack on one ally will trigger a response from the whole alliance. As long as we stand behind that message together we prevent any military attack on any ally,” he said.

“We have done so for decades because our deterrence is credible. Any suggestion that we are not standing up for each other, that we are not going to protect each other, that does undermine the security of all of us.”

President Joe Biden also strongly rejected Mr Trump’s comments, calling them “dumb, shameful, dangerous and un-American”. Like many others, he pointed out that the transatlantic alliance is a two-way street and that Article 5 has only ever been invoked to defend the US, after 9/11.

While Mr Trump likes to take credit for Europe’s increased spending, Mr Stoltenberg said the latest reinforcement was triggered by Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The 2 per cent pledge dates back to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which pushed Nato countries to reverse a long decline in military spending after the end of the Cold War.

Germany revealed on Wednesday it expects to hit 2 per cent for the first time since the early 1990s, after it approved €100 billion ($107.01 billion) of off-the-books spending to upgrade ageing military equipment.

Mr Stoltenberg did not reveal which countries are still behind the target, but said spending had risen an unprecedented 11 per cent in a year in Europe and Canada (in other words, the 30 non-US members of Nato).

“We are making real progress. European allies are spending more. However, some allies still have a way to go,” he said.

Mr Trump’s return to the fray is also affecting Nato’s support for Ukraine, with US aid to help fight off Russia held up in Congress by supporters of the former president.

Defence ministers are meeting in Brussels on Wednesday as Nato holds its largest military exercise since the Cold War, with about 91,000 troops staging months of war games in several countries.

The Steadfast Defender drill is a “clear demonstration of our capabilities” and Nato “will continue to ensure that there is no room for miscalculation” in the Kremlin, Mr Stoltenberg said.

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Updated: February 14, 2024, 1:11 PM