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Hungary aims to reach NATO defense spending goal in 2023

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Hungary hopes to reach a NATO defense spending target in 2023, a year ahead of the deadline agreed by allies who are facing strong pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to invest more in European security.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told Reuters that Budapest would spend 2% of economic output on its military ahead of the NATO target date of 2024, up from less than 1% just a few years ago, buying weaponry and equipment from Turkey, France, Germany and the Czech Republic.

“I really understood the position of President Trump because he wanted Europeans to spend more, to put more emphasis on their security,” Szijjarto said in the margins of a NATO foreign ministers meeting.

“We have been implementing a very significant and robust modernization strategy of our armed forces, which will last until 2026. We will hit the 2% (level) in 2023,” he said.

Hungary, which joined NATO in 1998, has traditionally spent less on defense than other eastern European members such as Poland, but Szijjarto said Budapest was “very determined to modernize the army”.

Only seven NATO countries currently meet or exceed the 2% target - the United States, Britain, Greece, Poland and the three Baltic states, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

But European allies, Canada and Turkey are projected to collectively invest more than $100 billion in defense between 2017 and the end of 2020, according to NATO projections.

Germany’s Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said earlier this month Berlin would spend 2% of its economic output on defense by 2031, belatedly reaching the goal set by NATO leaders at a 2014 summit, months after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Alexandra Hudson