NATO chief urges members to boost defence spending as only 7 hit target

BRUSSELS, March 21 (Reuters) - NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg urged member countries to speed up increases in defence spending as new figures showed fewer than a quarter of them meeting the alliance's target.

Stoltenberg said Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year showed the world had become more dangerous, and NATO allies had to respond by setting and meeting more ambitious military spending goals.

Seven of the alliance's 30 countries met the current goal of spending 2% of GDP on defence in 2022 - one fewer than in 2021, before Russia's invasion of Ukraine - according to estimates in the NATO secretary-general's annual report, released on Tuesday.

Stoltenberg said NATO had expected two more members to hit the target but their economies had grown by more than anticipated so their spending came in lower as a share of GDP.

NATO members have been steadily increasing their defence spending overall since Russian forces annexed Crimea and entered Donbas in eastern Ukraine in 2014. But Stoltenberg said last year's full-scale invasion showed a need to spend more.

"There's no doubt that we need to do more and we need to do it faster," he told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg holds a news conference to present NATO's annual report for 2022, in Brussels, Belgium March 21, 2023. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

"The pace now, when it comes to increases in defence spending, is not a high enough," he said. "My message to allies is that we welcome what they've done but they need to speed up, they need to deliver more in a more dangerous world."

At a summit in Wales in 2014, NATO leaders agreed to the goal of moving towards spending at least 2% of their GDP on defence within a decade.

Stoltenberg's 2022 report showed Greece, the United States, Lithuania, Poland, Britain, Estonia and Latvia met that target. Overall defence spending by NATO allies was up 2.2% on the previous year.

NATO leaders are expected to agree a new target at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July and Stoltenberg said 2% of GDP should now be seen as a minimum, with members aiming to move more quickly than they have done to get to higher levels.

"I will advocate for a more ambitious pledge than the one we made in 2014," he said. "If there was a need to increase defence spending back in 2014, this is even more obvious now."

The figures in Stoltenberg's report showed Croatia and France were the closest to meeting the 2% target, with each spending about 1.9% of GDP on defence.

Bringing up the rear were Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg, whose defence spending was under 1.2% of GDP.

Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Andrew Gray, Marine Strauss, Benoit Van Overstraeten, William Maclean

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Andrew is a senior correspondent for European security and diplomacy, based in Brussels. He covers NATO and the foreign policy of the European Union. A journalist for almost 30 years, he has previously been based in the UK, Germany, Geneva, the Balkans, West Africa and Washington, where he reported on the Pentagon. He covered the Iraq war in 2003 and contributed a chapter to a Reuters book on the conflict. He has also worked at Politico Europe as a senior editor and podcast host, served as the main editor for a fellowship programme for journalists from the Balkans, and contributed to the BBC's From Our Own Correspondent radio show.