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Secretary General: More Countries on Track to Meet NATO Spending Goals

NATO officials expect the majority of members to reach the goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense by 2024, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels today.

Figures project that 15 of the 29 NATO members will reach the goal, with all members already increasing defense spending in response to challenges in Europe and elsewhere.

Stoltenberg spoke in advance of the NATO defense ministers conference that will start at alliance’s headquarters tomorrow. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis has said he will discuss fair burden-sharing at the meeting.

The ministers are preparing for the NATO summit scheduled July in NATO’s new headquarters.

“Fair burden-sharing is also crucial for our shared security,” Stoltenberg said. At NATO’s 2014 summit in Wales, the leaders agreed to invest 2 percent of GDP in defense programs.

“After years of decline, since 2014 we have seen three years of increasing defense spending across European allies and Canada,” the secretary general said.

‘This is Substantial Progress’

In 2014, the United States was one of only three allies spending 2 percent or more on defense. “This year, we expect eight allies to meet the target,” Stoltenberg said. “And by 2024, we expect at least 15 allies will spend 2 percent of GDP or more on defense. This is substantial progress, and a good start.”

The allies also promised to invest more in major capabilities. “The European allies and Canada invested $19 billion more on major equipment over the last three years,” the secretary general said. “By 2024, 22 allies are expected to invest 20 percent or more of their defense budgets on major capabilities, which is NATO’s guideline. This should lead to significant improvements to our forces and their readiness.” The allies also are increasing their contributions to operations, missions and activities.

The defense ministers will also hold a meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group and segue into discussions on modernizing NATO’s command structure.

New Joint Force Command

Stoltenberg said he expects the ministers to approve a new joint force command for the Atlantic to focus on protecting sea lines of communication between North America and Europe.

“The command would play a crucial role in crisis and conflict,” Stoltenberg said. “Eighty percent of [Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s] area of responsibility is covered by water. And we need to stay ahead of potential threats both on sea and under it.”

The secretary general also said he expects NATO defense leaders to establish a new support command to improve the rapid movement of troops and equipment within Europe.

NATO officials also will meet with Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s high representative and vice president, to discuss the European Union’s defense plans and NATO-EU cooperation.

Deterrence and Defense Posture

Finally, the ministers will discuss NATO’s deterrence and defense posture and the alliance’s role in projecting stability and fighting terrorism. NATO is part of the coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, where NATO contributes airborne warning planes and troops to help train Iraqi forces.

“As the coalition shifts focus from combat operations to capacity-building, NATO’s training support will become even more important,” Stoltenberg said. “Years of experience from Afghanistan have taught us that strengthening local forces is one of our best tools in the fight against terrorism.”

Stoltenberg said the number of NATO forces in Afghanistan will grow this year from 13,000 to 16,000 personnel. “This is a clear sign of our continued commitment to Afghanistan’s security,” he added.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)