Two-thirds of countries in the Nato military alliance are projected to fall short this year of a target to spend 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence by 2024 at the latest.
Ten nations in the 30-member transatlantic grouping will hit the benchmarks compared with nine last year, but several European countries still lag far behind, according to a report published by the Brussels-based organisation on Wednesday.
The document highlights the continued slow progress towards the Nato spending targets agreed in 2014, even though many European countries have maintained or increased military investment plans despite the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic. The persistent gap between European military budgets and much higher US spending has previously triggered stinging criticism from US president Donald Trump.
Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, stressed that 2020 would be the sixth consecutive year in which total defence spending by European allies and Canada would rise, this time by 4.3 per cent in real terms.
“We expect this trend to continue,” he told reporters ahead of a virtual meeting of Nato defence ministers on Thursday and Friday. “Allies are also investing more in major capabilities and continue to contribute to our missions and operations.”
The UK and France — Europe’s two biggest military powers — are forecast to hit the 2 per cent target, along with Greece, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Romania and Norway.
But several large EU countries are set to fall well short, including Germany on 1.57 per cent, Italy (1.43 per cent) and Spain (1.16 per cent). Founding EU members Belgium (1.10 per cent) and Luxembourg (0.64 per cent) bring up the rear.
Concerns also persist over gaps in Nato maritime assets and response forces, diplomats said.
News of the projected spending shortfall comes as Sweden, which is not a Nato member but co-operates closely with the alliance, has announced a 40 per cent rise in defence spending over the next four years in response to what it said was a growing threat of hostilities with Russia. The boost, which is the highest percentage increase since the start of the cold war, will help pay for a doubling of military conscription as well as a new submarine and upgraded air weapons systems.
The Nato defence ministers are expected to discuss the potential threats from a new generation of Russian weapons and activities that could disrupt transatlantic data communication cables. The undersea cables, which carry 97 per cent of the world’s internet data, were already under threat from adversaries such as Moscow, the head of the UK’s Royal Navy warned earlier this month.
The Nato meeting takes place in an atmosphere of rising tensions between some allies, notably Turkey and France, over conflicts including the Libyan civil war and Ankara’s gas exploration in contested eastern Mediterranean waters.