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​​NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO's expected to approve spending two percent of GDP on defense by 2024. NATO Photo.

Fifteen of NATO’s 29 members are expected to reach the goal of spending two percent of gross domestic product on defense by 2024—a significant improvement over just a few years ago, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Tuesday in Brussels.

The defense-spending statement was one of a number of points he made in a wide-ranging press conference before NATO defense ministers meet Wednesday and Thursday in preparation for the organization’s planned July summit.

NATO members agreed in 2014 to move toward investing two percent of GDP on defense by 2024. At the time, only three allies were meeting the goal, but Stoltenberg pointed to three years of increased defense spending among European members and Canada totaling $46 billion. This year, he said, eight members are expected to meet the target, with “at least 15” expected to do so by 2024.

Stoltenberg said that what has happened so far is a good start, but there is still “a long way to go.”

 


“After years of decline, defense spending has started to increase again across Europe and Canada and around five percent increase in real terms in 2017 is significant, and I think actually more than most people expected back in 2014. So we have seen progress when it comes to the real change,” he said.

In addition, he said, the first round of national plans shows that progress will continue and that all NATO members plan to increase defense spending “in real terms.”

At the same time, though, the 2014 commitment is not just to spend more, but to also spend “better.” 

“We need both,” said Stoltenberg. 

NATO members “also agreed to invest more in key military capabilities and equipment,” said Stoltenberg, and to “contribute personnel to NATO missions and operations.”

He said European members and Canada invested $19 billion more on major equipment during the last three years, with 22 allies expected to invest 20 percent or more of their defense budgets on major capabilities by 2024. In terms of operations, missions, and activities, he said “almost all” NATO allies plan to maintain or increase their contributions.

“So we are stepping up on all three: cash, capabilities, and contributions. And I look forward to even more progress in the years ahead,” he said.

Stoltenberg said he expects NATO ministers to make decisions aimed at modernizing NATO’s command structure, to agree to set up a new joint force command for the Atlantic, and to establish a new support command to improve rapid movement of troops and equipment within Europe.