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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Record number of NATO allies hit military spending targets

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington, June 17, 2024. (Tom Brenner/The New York Times)

By Erica L. Green

President Joe Biden and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced earlier this week that a record number of allies were meeting their military spending commitments as the two leaders sought to present a robust and unwavering response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Biden and Stoltenberg met ahead of the annual NATO summit next month in Washington, where member countries are expected to discuss additional measures to help secure long-term security, funding and eventual membership for Ukraine. Stoltenberg announced on Monday that NATO was prepared to take on a larger role in Ukraine’s security in the meantime.

“I expect that when we meet next month, we will agree to have a NATO role in providing security assistance and training,” Stoltenberg said. “This will reduce the burden on the United States and strengthen our support to Ukraine.”

That is possible in part because the number of allies meeting their informal commitments to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on their militaries has soared. When NATO allies made the pledge in 2014, only three members — including the United States — met that mark, Stoltenberg said. About five years ago, roughly 10 did, he said, and this year more than 20 of the alliance’s 32 members will.

Stoltenberg also said allies have increased military spending this year by 18% — the biggest jump in decades.

The reassurances from the two leaders come as questions have arisen anew about the alliance and the commitment to Ukraine. Russia has recently made advances on the front lines after a temporary delay in military aid to Ukraine caused by congressional gridlock. And Biden’s main rival in the November election, former President Donald Trump, has expressed skepticism toward assistance for Ukraine and the value of NATO itself.

But Biden made clear in remarks before the meeting that he considers NATO essential. “Together, we’ve deterred further Russian aggression in Europe,” he said.

Next month’s summit is expected to build on efforts secured by Western allies at the Group of 7 summit in Italy last week, which included the approval of a $50 billion loan to Ukraine backed by unlocking frozen Russian assets, and a new, 10-year security pact signed by Biden and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that would train and equip Ukraine’s forces.

The increase in spending by NATO allies is likely to blunt one line of attack from Trump, who has long criticized other members of the alliance for not paying their fair share. But his potential return to the White House has left other members of NATO fearful for the future of the alliance.

Trump threatened to withdraw the United States from the alliance if European countries did not increase their spending, and in February said he would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO members if they had failed to pay. This month, more than 40 House Republicans voted to defund the organization, alleging that too many members were not meeting the 2% commitment.

In an address at a Washington think tank before Monday’s meeting with Biden, Stoltenberg appeared to acknowledge the difficulties Trump’s allies in Congress had caused for Ukraine by holding up $60 billion in aid, which was eventually approved in April. He said that “serious delays and gaps in delivering support” had led to “consequences on the front line” this winter and spring.

“We cannot let this happen again,” Stoltenberg said. “This is why, at the summit, I expect allied leaders to agree for NATO to lead the coordination and provision of security assistance and training for Ukraine. It is also why I have proposed a long-term financial pledge, with fresh funding every year.”

“The more credible our long-term support, the quicker Moscow will realize it cannot wait us out and the sooner this war can end,” Stoltenberg said.

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