U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper on Friday reassured NATO allied that Washington will consult with them on any future troop movements and called on them to spend at least 2% of their GDP on security and defence.
Esper paid a short in-person visit to the NATO headquarters in Brussels after the defence ministers meeting the past week. Allies raised concerns over American President Donald Trump’s abrupt announcement of the withdrawal of thousands of personnel from Germany after announcing his intentions to hasten U.S. troops back from Afghanistan earlier.
“We’ll be discussing everything from Afghanistan to COVID-19 response, to the important issues. Also, it means improving NATO readiness and to continue to urge all of our allies to meet their target goal of 2% of GDP,” said Esper in a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Last week, Trump ordered a major reduction in troops in Germany, without notifying them, from around 34,500 personnel down to 25,000. Germany is the hub of U.S. operations in the Middle East and Africa.
Trump also branded the country as a “delinquent” for failing to pay enough for its own defence and not meeting a 2014 goal for members to move towards spending at least 2% of gross national product on defence by 2024.
Esper reaffirmed that message, saying “We’ve moved a good distance here in the last few years but there’s much, much more we need to do to ensure our collective security.”
Stoltenberg, for his part, said, “Our countries must continue to invest to keep them strong. And ensure that this health crisis does not turn into a security crisis. Because the security challenges we faced before the pandemic have not disappeared,” he added.
According to NATO figures, Germany is spending about 1.38% of GDP on its defence budget. Berlin aims to hit 1.5% by 2024 and insists that this level of spending allows it to meet NATO’s defense planning goals. The U.S. — at around 3.4% of GDP — spends more on defense than all 29 other allies combined.
On Afghanistan, where NATO has led security efforts since 2003 and recently began to pull troops out in line with a U.S.-brokered Doha peace deal with the Taliban, Stoltenberg said they “will continue to adjust our presence” and that this will “be done in close coordination with Allies and partners.”