‘Making NATO Stronger’ Again: Alliance Chief Says Trump’s Message Having ‘Real Impact’

Stick to defence spending pledge, NATO chief tells Germany
AFP/François WALSCHAERTS

WASHINGTON, DC — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in a speech Wednesday marking the alliance’s 70th anniversary before a joint session of Congress, asserted that U.S. President Donald Trump’s insistence that member nations pay their fair share for their defense “is having a real impact” on increasing spending by allies.

In the first address to the U.S. Congress by a NATO chief, Stoltenberg told lawmakers:

NATO allies must spend more on defense. This has been the clear message from president Trump and this message is having a real impact. After years of reducing defense budgets, all allies have stopped the cuts. And all allies have increased their defense spending. Before they were cutting billions, now they’re adding billions.

Since President Trump’s inauguration, NATO members in Europe and Canada have added $41 billion to their defense budgets, Stoltenberg indicated, adding that the figure is expected to reach $100 billion by the end of next year.

Stoltenberg continued:

This is making NATO stronger. That money will allow us to invest in new capabilities our armed forces need, including advanced fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, missile defense, and surveillance drones. This is good for Europe and is good for America.

America’s NATO allies provide important capabilities, including tens of thousands of intelligence personnel and cyber experts giving the United States better eyes and ears where you need them — from tracking submarines in the Arctic to taking down the cyber networks of ISIS [Islamic State]. And Europe provides the U.S. with a platform to project power around the world.

On Tuesday, Trump praised NATO countries for increasing their financial contributions to the coalition but urged them to pay more, arguing that American taxpayers are still shouldering a disproportionate share of the cost of protecting allies in Europe.

In the wake of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, NATO allies agreed to a Trump-backed increase in defense budgets and “move toward” spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) by 2024.

Currently, the United States devotes 3.5 percent of its GDP to defense. Although NATO members increased their defense spending over the course of 2018 in response to pressure from the United States, only a few countries met the 2 percent of GDP threshold.

“NATO is a strong alliance, but to remain a strong alliance, NATO must be a fair alliance,” Stoltenberg told American lawmakers. “In an ideal world, we would not need to spend any money on defense, but we do not live in an ideal world. Freedom has enemies, and they need to be deterred and if deterrence fails we need to fight.”

Democrats have repeatedly questioned Trump’s commitment to the alliance, citing reports claiming the president has considered pulling out over NATO members’ refusal to pay their fair share.

Trump has blasted other NATO members, including Germany, for not meeting alliance-agreed spending targets of 2 percent of GDP.

On Wednesday, the NATO chief acknowledged that questions are being asked across the world about the “strength” of the alliance’s partnership, noting that there are disagreements among NATO countries in trade, energy, climate change, and the Iran nuclear deal.

Stoltenberg proclaimed:

The strength of NATO is that despite our differences we have always been able to unite around our common task — to defend each other, protect each other, and to keep our people safe.

We face unprecedented challenges, challenges no one nation can face alone: the global balance of power is shifting; the fight against terrorism is a generational fight; We’ve only just seen the beginnings of the threats in cyberspace; artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and big data could change the nature of conflict more fundamentally than the industrial revolution; and we will need to continue to deal with a more assertive Russia.

Last year, Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal agreed between U.S.-led world powers (China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany). Non-U.S. signatories have been scrambling to save the deal since.

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