European NATO members to
boost defense spending
Washington (UPI) Jun 25, 2019 - The European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will increase defense spending for the fourth consecutive year amid calls by President Donald Trump for the allies to spend a greater share of their budgets on defense.
In a report released Tuesday on the 29-member alliance, NATO said the European countries would average 1.58 percent of gross domestic product this year on defense, which is an increase from 1.53 percent in 2018, 1.48 percent in 2017 and 1.46 percent in 2016.
The expenditures are military spending -- not payments to NATO.
"This is a good trend and we expect this to continue," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters from his Brussels headquarters.
In 2014, NATO members pledged to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024.
Seven nations will spend at least 2 percent on defense this year compared with three in 2014. European nations achieving this goals are Greece at 2.24 percent, Britain at 2.13 percent, Estonia at 2.13 percent, Romania at 2.04 percent, Latvia at 2.01 percent and Poland at 2.01 percent. The estimate for Lithuania is just shy of 2 percent, at 1.98 percent.
Comparatively, the United States tops the list at 3.42 percent with an estimated of $752 billion in spending, while in 2014 it was 3.73 percent at $654 billion.
The United States accounts for more than two-thirds of NATO's defense expenditure of $1 trillion.
Trump threatened to pull the United States out of NATO at the alliance's last summit in July 2018.
"For years, the United States was being treated very unfairly by NATO -- but now we have secured a $100 billion increase in defense spending from NATO allies," Trump said at the State of the Union address in February. "Under my administration, we will never apologize for advancing America's interests."
Trump has taken aim at Germany, whom he referred to as a "captive of Russia."
"Germany pays 1% (slowly) of GDP towards NATO, while we pay 4% of a MUCH larger GDP. Does anybody believe that makes sense?" Trump tweeted last June. "We protect Europe (which is good) at great financial loss, and then get unfairly clobbered on Trade. Change is coming!"
Germany, which has Europe's biggest economy, will increase military spending to 1.36 percent of GDP this year -- $54 billion -- compared with 1.24 percent in 2018, according to NATO.
Canada's percentage is 1.27 percent compared with 1.29 percent last year. And France boosted its percentage to 1.84 percent from 1.82 last year.
The alliance is scheduled to discuss transatlantic "burden sharing" at meetings Wednesday and Thursday, also in Brussels.
As concerns grow about the possible militarisation of space -- alongside more mundane worries about debris orbiting the Earth -- allied defence ministers will sign off on a policy framework.
The aim is for NATO to make space a full operational domain -- alongside land, sea, air and cyber -- perhaps as early as the alliance summit in London in December, diplomats say.
"Space is part of our daily lives, and while it can be used for peaceful purposes, it can also be used for aggression," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.
"Satellites can be jammed, hacked or weaponised. Anti-satellite weapons could cripple communications, so it is important that we are vigilant and resilient."
NATO has tried unsuccessfully to craft a policy in the past, most recently in 2011-12, but officials point to fresh impetus now as space becomes "more congested, contested and competitive".
Around 2,000 active satellites currently orbit the Earth, along with half a million pieces of debris, 30,000 to 40,000 of which are capable of damaging a satellite.
And a NATO official said that while there is so far no known deployment of space-based weapons in orbit, concerns are growing about "more aggressive behaviour" from China and Russia.
Like the US, Russia and China are capable of destroying enemy satellites using missiles fired from Earth, and probably also by engineering deliberate collisions. The three countries may also be developing lasers to blind or damage satellites.
Hacking, jamming and harassing communications and spy satellites are also becoming increasingly important tactics in space.
In October 2017 a Russian satellite approached a French-Italian satellite in a move Paris later denounced as espionage, and the US and China have demonstrated similar capabilities.
NATO's new policy will give the alliance a framework to discuss these issues, how to respond to them and how to maintain the alliance's current advantage in space.
NATO includes around half-a-dozen "space-faring" member states, led by the US, and initially the new policy will seek to use their resources rather than developing new capabilities for the alliance.
"NATO will not buy or operate its own satellites -- the principle is that NATO will rely on space services provided by allies," a NATO official said.
But longer term, there could be a role for at least some elements of a NATO-operated space system, for example to replace the alliance's AWACS surveillance system when it is phased out in the 2030s.
If space becomes an operational domain, it will allow NATO's planners to set targets for different allies to provide capabilities -- so many hours of satellite communications, for example, or a certain amount of data for intelligence imagery.
A vital question for NATO will be whether and in what circumstances the alliance's common defence pact -- Article 5 of its founding treaty, under which an attack on one ally is an attack on all -- can apply.
Stoltenberg said it was too early to speculate on how Article 5 could apply in space, but the issue will be crucial in the coming debate among allies.
The US military is carrying out a major shakeup to create the Space Force demanded by President Donald Trump.
The new force, which has yet to receive congressional approval, will be on an equal footing with the army, navy, air force and Marine Corps and have some 20,000 personnel.
While the NATO policy is not a response to Trump's plans, it may give Stoltenberg a positive message to sell the mercurial US leader at what could be an awkward summit in London in December.
The NATO summit in Brussels last year was overshadowed by Trump haranguing European allies for not spending enough on defence, and with only modest improvements on that front, the spectre of a repeat hangs in the air.
"There will not be many meaty headlines for the secretary general to go in front of media come December," the NATO official said.
"Space is one where he can
say 'Look, President Trump, you
have announced Space Force, we
at NATO understand the growing
importance of this domain so we
have decided to move ahead with
operational domain with all the
follow-on work that will come