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NATO chief hails ‘unprecedented’ spending boost by allies ahead of summit

Jens Stoltenberg speaks at the Nordic Council Session 2010. (Magnus Fröderberg/Nordic Co-operation/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says defense spending across European allies and Canada increased by 4.6 percent this year, making this the fifth consecutive year of growth.

Stoltenberg was speaking on November 29 ahead of a meeting of NATO leaders in Britain next week, as Washington is pressing hard for other member states to contribute more for defense and amid frictions between allies over policies concerning Iran, Russia, and Syria.

The NATO chief told journalists in Brussels that by the end of 2020, European countries and Canada will have invested $130 billion more since 2016.

By the end of 2024, this figure is expected to rise to $400 billion, he said, adding, “This is unprecedented progress and it is making NATO stronger.”

Nine of NATO’s 29 countries are now meeting the alliance’s defense spending target of 2 percent of gross domestic product, “up from just three allies a few years ago,” Stoltenberg said.

And the majority of member states “have plans to do so by 2024,” he said.

NATO leaders will meet in central London for a series of events on December 3 to mark the Western military alliance’s 70th anniversary, before heading out to nearby Watford for a formal session the next day.

Summit preparation has been overshadowed by French President Emmanuel Macron’s criticism about a lack of political and strategic coordination within the alliance.

On November 28, Macron said that he stood by comments he made three weeks ago when he described NATO as “brain-dead,” drawing sharp criticism from allies.

He also defended his push for dialogue with Russia, saying: “Is our enemy today Russia, as I sometimes hear? Is it China? Is it the goal of NATO to designate them as enemies? I don’t believe so. Our common enemy today is terrorism, which has hit each of our countries.”

There have been persistent tensions between Moscow and the West over issues including Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, its role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and its meddling in other countries’ elections.

The alliance has also raised concerns regarding the implications of China’s increased presence and activity in the North Atlantic area.

President Donald Trump will tell the upcoming NATO meeting that China and Russia remain major challenges, “China above all,” a senior U.S. official said on November 29, according to AFP.

The official said on condition of anonymity that it was “no wonder” that many NATO members were worried by Russia’s “consistent disregard for the sovereign and territorial integrity of its neighbors.”

The French president also criticized NATO-member Turkey’s military offensive against Kurdish militia fighters in northern Syria.

In response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Macron on November 29, saying the French leader should have his “own brain-death checked” and calling him “a novice.”

Macron’s office said the French Foreign Ministry will summon the Turkish envoy in Paris for talks after what it termed “insults” by Erdogan.