NATO expects its members to keep up defence spending despite the economic turmoil caused by coronavirus, the alliance chief said Thursday, insisting they must maintain the ability to defend themselves.
The global pandemic has forced NATO to curtail or cancel some military exercises but Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said its capacity to ensure security in Europe and North America was not affected.
While acknowledging the “severe economic consequences” of COVID-19, Stoltenberg insisted governments must stick to their defence spending plans.
“When NATO allies decided to invest more in defence, they did so because we live in a more uncertain, more unpredictable world,” Stoltenberg said.
“This has not changed. So I expect the allies to stay committed to investing more in our security.”
Most NATO countries have struggled to hit their own agreed target of spending two percent of GDP on defence by 2024 — infuriating US President Donald Trump, who accuses them of freeloading on America.
In 2019 just eight European NATO members hit the target, according to the alliance’s annual report published on Thursday.
And with governments injecting huge sums into the economy to cushion the blow of coronavirus, which has sent markets crashing, defence budgets are sure to come under pressure.
The pandemic has forced NATO countries to cancel some military exercises and reduce others, including the massive US-led Defender Europe 20 drills which were originally planned to involved some 37,000 troops.
But Stoltenberg insisted the changes had not reduced NATO’s capabilities.
“Our forces are ready and NATO is working. And if needed, we are able to react,” he said.
“Our operational readiness is intact, despite the fact that we have modified some exercises.”
A meeting of the alliance’s 29 foreign ministers is scheduled for early next month at NATO’s Brussels headquarters.
But with many countries imposing travel restrictions and the Belgian authorities urging people to stay at home wherever possible, the meeting may not be held in person.
“We are now assessing whether we will organise that as a physical meeting as we normally do or whether we will find other ways to conduct the meeting — no final decision has been made,” he said.
Since measures to limit social contact were introduced to slow the spread of coronavirus, the EU has been holding meetings and ministerials by videoconference.