Nato countries need to significantly increase their defence spending in a “more dangerous and unpredictable world”, where Ukraine is paying the price for freedom, the alliance’s chief declared as the Madrid summit got under way.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also suggested that increased fuel prices would provide an incentive for the world to develop new energy technologies while arguing that companies should not be “demonised” for rocketing charges.
Speaking at the outset of the major Nato meeting, he also said that high food prices caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would have a significant impact on the Middle East in the coming months.
“I fully understand that people all over the world, including in the Middle East and Africa, are extremely concerned but the reason for increased food prices is not Nato or sanctions, it is Russia's war against Ukraine,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attack in February sparked a “fundamental shift” that meant Nato countries need to step up military spending “in a more dangerous and unpredictable world”.
Currently only nine out of Nato’s 30 members meet the organisation’s target of spending 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence but this number is expected to expand.
The Madrid summit will conclude with a new Strategic Concept to be announced on Thursday that will chart the alliance’s direction for years to come.
Already Nato is increasing to having 300,000 troops on high alert — a tenfold increase — and talks are under way to ease Turkey’s concerns over Sweden and Finland joining the alliance.
Mr Stoltenberg said he understood that the tough sanctions on Russia had “global ramifications” but people were paying “a much lower than the price they will pay if Putin gets his way by using military force against an independent nation”.
“By far the highest price is being paid by the Ukraine people and Ukrainian armed forces,” he told the Nato Public Forum. “They're actually fighting and every day we see casualties in Ukraine where they are killed, where we see atrocities and where people are afraid of their lives, so we have to put things in perspective.”
It was also necessary to “ensure the lesson Putin learns from this war is that he cannot be rewarded for using brutal military force”.
The rising price of fuel and food were “a price worth paying to support brave Ukrainian people in upholding the right to self-defence”, he said, speaking as US President Joe Biden and other Nato leaders arrived in Madrid.
He urged oil producing countries to “increase the supply” as the high fuel prices were “a really serious problem” for impoverished countries.
“They are a big problem for ordinary households throughout the world and poor people are more vulnerable than rich people because they're unable to pay for it. I think the answer is to increase supply.”
But he also argued that high costs would provide an incentive for greater investment in “more energy efficient solutions”.
He added that the fuel costs had also led to a number of countries going back to the high-carbon emissions generated by coal plants, something that many had agreed to end at the Cop 26 climate conference in November last year.
“That is bad for the climate but of course it reflects the desperate situation they are in,” he said.