Record number of Nato allies ‘expected to hit defence spending target’

Nato member countries agreed in 2023 to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defence.

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg announced the estimated figure on Monday (Virginia Mayo/AP)
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg announced the estimated figure on Monday (Virginia Mayo/AP) (Virginia Mayo/AP)

A record 23 Nato member nations are expected to hit the Western military alliance’s defence spending target this year, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday, as the war in Ukraine drives worldwide concerns.

The estimated figure, announced by Mr Stoltenberg during a talk at the Wilson Centre in Washington, marks a near fourfold increase from 2021 in the ranks of the 32 Nato member nations meeting the alliance’s defence spending guideline.

Only six nations were meeting the goal that year, ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Nato member countries agreed last year to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defence.

The surge in spending reflects the worries of Western allies about the war in Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden meets Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office at the White House (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)
US President Joe Biden meets Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office at the White House (Mark Schiefelbein/AP) (Mark Schiefelbein/AP)

Poland, at more than 4%, and tiny Estonia both lead the United States this year in the percentage of their GDP they spend on defence. Both countries border Russia.

Defence spending across European allies and Canada was up nearly 18% this year alone, the biggest increase in decades, according to Nato’s estimated figures released on Monday.

Some countries also are concerned about the possible re-election of former US president Donald Trump, who has repeatedly characterised many Nato allies as freeloading on US military spending and said on the campaign trail that he would not defend Nato members that do not meet defence spending targets.

“Shifting US administrations have had the absolutely valid point to say that US allies are spending too little,” Mr Stoltenberg told reporters. “The good news is that’s changing.

“Europeans are doing more for their collective security than just a few years ago.”

Mr Stoltenberg’s visit is laying the groundwork for what is expected to be a pivotal summit of Nato leaders in Washington next month. The mutual-defence alliance has grown in strength and size since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago, with both Sweden and Finland joining.

Defence spending by many European countries fell after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union seemed to neutralise what was then the prime security threat to the West.

But after Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Nato members unanimously agreed to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defence within a decade.

The full-scale invasion that Vladimir Putin launched in 2022 spurred European countries newly on the front line of a war in the heart of Europe to pour more resources into meeting that target.

Nato members have so far have resisted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s appeals to take his country into the bloc as long as the war is still on.

Mr Stoltenberg pointed to efforts to bolster Ukraine in the meantime. That includes Nato streamlining the eventual membership process for Ukraine, and individual Nato nations providing updated arms and training to Ukraine’s military, including the US giving it F-16s and bringing Ukrainian pilots to the US for training on the advanced aircraft.

“The idea is to move them so close to membership that when the time comes, when there is consensus, they can become a member straight away,” Mr Stoltenberg said.

However Russia’s offensive concludes, only taking Ukraine into the alliance will dissuade Mr Putin from trying again in the future to conquer Ukraine, the Nato chief said.

“When the fighting ends, Nato membership (for Ukrain) assures that the war really ends,” he said.

The prospect of Ukraine joining Nato has long been anathema to Mr Putin, and it was one of his stated motivations for seizing Crimea. He offered last week to order an immediate ceasefire if Ukraine renounced plans to join the alliance, an offer that was dismissed by Ukraine.

A weekend conference held in Switzerland was billed as a first step toward peace and ended with pledges to work toward a resolution but had few concrete deliverables. It was attended largely by Western nations and Russia was not invited. China sat it out and then India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Mexico did not sign the meeting’s final document on Sunday.

Kyiv’s outgunned and outnumbered forces are battling to hold back the bigger Russian army, which has taken over chunks of territory after pollical squabbles led to delays in delivering US and European military aid.

Ukraine has been short of troops, ammunition and air defences in recent months as the Kremlin’s forces try to cripple the national power supply and punch through the front line in eastern parts of the country.

After the speech, Mr Stoltenberg met US President Joe Biden at the White House. The president said the alliance has become “larger, stronger and more united than it’s ever been” during Mr Stoltenberg’s tenure.

Mr Biden spoke affectionately of Mr Stoltenberg, calling him “pal” and saying he wished that Mr Stoltenberg, who has been Nato’s secretary-general since 2014, could serve another term when the current one expires in October.

“Together, we’ve deterred further Russian aggression in Europe,” Mr Biden said. “We’ve strengthened Nato’s eastern flank ,making it clear that we’ll defend every single inch of Nato territory.”

Mr Stoltenberg noted that allies were buying more military equipment from the US.

“So Nato is good for US security, but Nato is also good for US jobs,” he said.