NATO chief hails record defense spending while warning that Trump's remarks undermine security

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BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that its European members and Canada have ramped up defense spending to record levels, as he warned that former U.S. President Donald Trump was undermining their security by calling into question the U.S. commitment to its allies.

Stoltenberg said U.S. partners in NATO have spent $600 billion more on their military budgets since 2014 when Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine prompted them all to reverse the spending cuts they had made after the Cold War ended.

“Last year we saw an unprecedented rise of 11% across European allies and Canada,” Stoltenberg told reporters on the eve of a meeting of the organization’s defense ministers in Brussels.

In 2014, NATO leaders committed to move toward spending 2% of their gross domestic product on defense within a decade. It has mostly been slow going, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago focused minds. The 2% figure is now considered a minimum requirement.

“This year, I expect 18 allies to spend 2% of the GDP on defense. That is another record number and a six-fold increase from 2014 when only three allies met the target,” Stoltenberg said.

On Saturday, Trump, the front-runner in the U.S. for the Republican Party’s nomination this year, said he once warned that he would allow Russia to do whatever it wants to NATO members that are “delinquent” in devoting 2% of GDP to defense.

President Joe Biden branded Trump’s remarks “dangerous” and “un-American,” seizing on the former president’s comments as they fuel doubt among U.S. partners about its future dependability on the global stage.

Stoltenberg said those comments call into question the credibility of NATO’s collective security commitment — Article 5 of the organization’s founding treaty, which says that an attack on any member country will be met with a response from all of them.

“The whole idea of NATO is that an attack on one ally will trigger a response from the whole alliance and as long as we stand behind that message together, we prevent any military attack on any ally,” Stoltenberg said.

“Any suggestion that we are not standing up for each other, that we are not going to protect each other, that does undermine the security of all of us,” he said.

Trump’s comments have not only sent a wave of unease through Europe but are also likely to be a major topic of conversation at the annual Munich Security Conference, starting later this week in the Bavarian city.

Both U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be present at the event that American officials hoped would concentrate more on immediate security concerns in Ukraine and Gaza, as well as challenges posed by China and the importance of multilateralism in collective defense.

The top U.S. diplomat for Europe, James O’Brien, said Tuesday that Blinken would be prepared to address questions about America’s commitment to NATO allies and issues related to Trump’s comments. But he also sought to downplay European concerns, noting that NATO has been a cornerstone of European security for more than seven decades.

O’Brien told reporters that U.S. administrations from the Democratic and Republican parties "have regarded NATO as the bedrock of our security, certainly in Europe but increasingly a global partner.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has assailed Trump’s comments without mentioning the former president by name. He posted on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, saying that “any relativization of NATO’s support guarantee is irresponsible and dangerous, and is in the interest of Russia alone” and that “no one can play, or ‘deal,’ with Europe’s security.”

Scholz's spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that while “such comments are dangerous,” it is also “important to stress” they "have no influence on pressing NATO action.”

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Lee reported from Munich, Germany. Associated Press Writer Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.