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BRUSSELS, February 14. /TASS/. NATO’s defense spending has increased by 3.8%, or $10 billion, among European allies and Canada, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference ahead of a meeting of the alliance’s defense ministers.
"I can present to you the new updated figures for 2016: defense spending in real terms has increased by 3.8% among European Allies and Canada," he said. "This is significantly higher than what we had originally foreseen. And it amounts to roughly 10 billion dollars more for our defense. This makes a difference, but it is absolutely vital that we keep up the momentum," Stoltenberg added.
When asked what were those European member states to do who could not currently afford to increase defense spending, NATO secretary general said that "we don’t expect all allies to meet the two percent target immediately, but we expect all allies to stop the cuts and to start to increase defense spending." "We are aware, that several NATO allies are struggling with the budgets, with deficits. Having said that, this is always a question of how to prioritize defense. When 28 allies have agreed, I expect all 28 allies to deliver," Stoltenberg stressed.
According to him, five of NATO member states have already reached the necessary level, two of the Baltic states, Latvia and Lithuania, are close to reaching this goal, followed by Romania. "Defense spending is important because we have to invest in our security when the world has become more dangerous," the NATO secretary general stressed.
Stoltenberg also said that defense spending was the main topic of his two telephone talks with US President Donald Trump. "In my two phone calls with president Trump, defense spending has been the main topic. He has expressed his strong commitment to NATO, to the Trans-Atlantic bond," he said. "But at the same time, president Trump has in both phone calls also underlined the importance of a fair burden sharing. Those countries that spend less than two percent, have to meet the two percent target. And I agree with him. That’s the reason why I welcome that we now are making progress, but also the reason why I’m stressing and underlining so much that we still have a long way to go," Stoltenberg added.
The NATO secretary general further said that on February 15 he was going to hold his first meeting with the new US Secretary of Defense James Mattis. "We are all looking forward to receive secretary Mattis here at NATO tomorrow to be able to sit down with him and to discuss many different topics, including burden sharing, but also NATO’s role in fighting terrorism," Stoltenberg said. "And I think, that all the other NATO defense ministers are looking forward to listen to him and to meet him in person to discuss how NATO in the best possible way can continue to adapt to a more challenging security environment," he added.
According to Stoltenberg, defense ministers of NATO member states plan to "discuss more in detail what the United States wants." "The US is, for instance, highlighting the importance of using NATO as a tool to fight terrorism. And when it comes to defense spending, I think it’s obvious, defense spending is about those allies who spend less than two percent have to spend more," he elaborated. "The most important thing is that we increase defense spending, and that’s exactly what we are doing. Ten million more for defense in 2016 across Europe and Canada is an important step in the right direction, but it’s not enough, we have to do more," Stoltenberg noted.
He said that he planned to meet Donald Trump in Brussels in order to discuss financial issues. "I look forward to have president Trump here in Brussels together with all the NATO leaders sitting around the table and discussing how we can deliver on a fairer burden sharing," he added.
The US has been demanding for the past 20 years that NATO’s European member states increase their defense spending to at least two percent of their GDP in order to facilitate the replacement of outdated military hardware and the purchase of new kinds of weapons mainly those produced by the US. At the Wales summit held in September 2014, NATO’s European members committed themselves to increase their defense spending from one to two percent of GDP in the course of ten years.