April 25, 2018 / 7:28 PM / 4 months ago

Russia-wary U.S. to press NATO allies to hike military spending: official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will press NATO allies, especially Germany, to increase military spending while underscoring the heightened threat from Russia, a senior State Department official said on Wednesday before Friday’s meeting of the alliance in Brussels.

FILE PHOTO: Banners displaying the NATO logo are placed at the entrance of new NATO headquarters during the move to the new building, in Brussels, Belgium April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Asked whether U.S. Secretary of State nominee, Mike Pompeo, would attend the meeting if he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Thursday, the official said, “We are following this closely, but don’t have anything to announce on that right now.”

As of now, Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan will attend the meeting of NATO foreign ministers, the official said.

The meeting is a preview to a July summit of leaders from countries belonging to NATO, an organization founded on collective defense against the Soviet threat.

“At no point since the Cold War has NATO been more relevant than it is today, we see this renewed relevance above all through the lens of Russian aggression,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The Russian government has demonstrated its ability to threaten, coerce, undermine and even invade its neighbors,” the official said, emphasizing that Moscow was a “destabilizing factor” in Ukraine, Georgia and Syria.

The official said six NATO member countries had submitted spending plans to meet a target of 2 percent of economic output on defense every year by 2024.

“It is time for the other 13 members of the alliance to step up, and especially Germany, NATO largest and wealthiest European member state of NATO,” the official said.

The official said the issue was likely to be raised during a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington this week.

The issue of low defense spending in Europe has long been an irritant in the United States, whose new national defense strategy centers on countering Russia after more than a decade of focusing on Islamist militants.

By current standards, Washington funds about 70 percent of NATO spending and military analysts say Europe is now vulnerable to a range of threats, including Russia’s military modernization, Islamist militancy and electronic warfare on computer networks.

Some Europeans say focusing on the 2 percent figure is misleading as it does not take into account how money is spent.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Tom Brown

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