BERLIN Nov 30 Top NATO and European military
officials called in Berlin on Wednesday for more military
spending to deal with threats to Europe and said that would help
address concerns raised by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump.
During his election campaign, Trump questioned whether the
United States should protect allies seen as spending too little
on their defence, raising fears he could withdraw funding for
NATO at a time of heightened tensions with Russia.
In Brussels on Wednesday, the European Union unveiled its
biggest defence funding and research plan in more than a decade
to reverse billions in cuts and demonstrate that it wants to pay
for its own security.
"The best answer to Mr. Trump is to prove that he's wrong, to
prove that Europe is strong enough to defend itself," French
Admiral Philippe Coindreau, vice chief of defence staff, said
during a panel discussion at the Berlin Security Conference.
"I think European nations should increase their defence
Trump's comments have unsettled many in Europe. But NATO
said he spoke with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg
earlier this month and they agreed on the "enduring importance"
of the Western alliance.
Trump has also spoken twice with British Prime Minister
Theresa May and touched on the importance of NATO for European
and U.S. security, Peter Watkins, director of general security
policy for the British Ministry of Defence, told the conference.
Watkins said he was "pretty confident" that Trump would make
a clear statement about his commitment to the NATO alliance.
Czech General Petr Pavel, who heads the NATO military
committee, said U.S. demands for higher military spending were
Pavel said it was more important to focus on tangible
improvements in military capabilities than fixate on the 2
percent target, which he said was "too far and too big" for many
NATO members to meet anytime soon.
NATO's European members cut defence spending to historic
lows after the break-up of the Soviet Union a quarter of a
century ago, leaving the United States to make up around
three-quarters of the alliance's military expenditure.
Spending has increased in recent years after Russia's
annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine, the growing threat
of Islamist attacks and large migrant flows. However, only
Britain, Poland, Greece and Estonia meet a NATO goal of spending
at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defence.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Tom Heneghan)