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A record 23 NATO allies hit their defense spending target during Russia-Ukraine war: NATO chief

WASHINGTON (AP) — A record 23 of NATO’s 32 member nations are meeting the Western military alliance’s defense spending target this year, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday. Russia’s war in Ukraine increased the threat of an expansion of the conflict in Europe.

The estimated figure is nearly quadrupling compared to 2021, when only six countries met the target. This was before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

“Europeans are doing more for their collective security than they were a few years ago,” Stoltenberg said in a speech to the Wilson Center research group.

After the speech, Stoltenberg met at the White House with President Joe Biden. The US president said the alliance had become “bigger, stronger and more united than it has ever been” during Stoltenberg’s tenure.

Biden spoke fondly of Stoltenberg, calling him a “buddy” and saying he wished Stoltenberg, who has served as NATO secretary general since 2014, could serve another term when the current term expires in October.

“Together we have deterred further Russian aggression in Europe,” Biden said. “We have strengthened NATO’s eastern flank, making it clear that we will defend every inch of NATO territory.”

Stoltenberg noted that allies are buying more military equipment from the United States: “So NATO is good for U.S. security, but NATO is also good for American jobs. ” he said.

NATO members agreed last year to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense. The rising spending reflects concerns over the war in Ukraine.

Poland, at more than 4 percent, and tiny Estonia both lead the United States this year in the percentage of their GDP spent on defense. Both countries border Russia.

Defense spending by European allies and Canada has increased by almost 18% this year alone, the biggest increase in decades, according to estimated NATO figures released Monday.

Some countries are also concerned about the possible re-election of former President Donald Trump, who called many NATO allies appropriating U.S. military spending and said on the campaign trail that he would not defend NATO members which do not meet defense spending targets.

“Changing U.S. administrations have had a very valid argument that America’s allies are spending too little,” Stoltenberg told reporters. “The good news is that things are changing.”

Stoltenberg’s visit lays the groundwork for what is expected to be a crucial summit of NATO leaders in Washington next month. The mutual defense alliance has grown in strength and size since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago, with Sweden and Finland joining.

Defense spending in many European countries plummeted after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 appeared to neutralize what was then the main security threat to the West.

But after Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, NATO members unanimously agreed to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense within ten years. The full-scale invasion launched by Putin in 2022 has prompted European countries newly on the front lines of a war in the heart of Europe to devote more resources to achieving this goal.

Much of the summit is expected to focus on what NATO and NATO member governments can do for Ukraine as it faces relentless air and ground attacks from its more powerful neighbor. They have so far resisted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s calls to bring his country into the bloc as long as the war continues.

Stoltenberg highlighted efforts to support Ukraine in the meantime. This involves NATO streamlining Ukraine’s possible membership process and some NATO countries providing updated weapons and training to the Ukrainian military, including the United States giving it F- 16 and bringing Ukrainian pilots to the United States for training on these advanced aircraft.

“The idea is to get them so close to membership that when the time comes, when there is consensus, they can become members immediately,” Stoltenberg said.

Whatever the outcome of the Russian offensive, only Ukraine’s membership in the alliance will deter Putin from trying to conquer Ukraine again, the NATO chief said.

“When the fighting ends, Ukraine’s membership in NATO “guarantees that the war will actually end,” he said.

The prospect of Ukraine joining NATO has long been anathema to Putin, and it was one of his stated motivations for seizing Crimea. He offered last week to order an immediate ceasefire if Ukraine renounced its intention to join the alliance, an offer that was rejected by Ukraine.

A weekend conference organized in Switzerland was presented as a first step toward peace and ended with promises to work toward a resolution, but came to nothing. few concrete deliverables. Western nations participated largely and Russia was not invited. China did not participate, and then India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Mexico did not sign the final document of the meeting on Sunday.

kyiv’s forces, under-equipped and outnumbered, are fight to hold back the largest Russian army, which took back swathes of territory after political wrangling led to delays in the delivery of U.S. and European military aid. Ukraine has been short of troops, ammunition and air defense in recent months as Kremlin forces attempt to cripple the country’s electricity supply and breach the front line in the country’s east.

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