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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a news conference ahead of a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir(reuters_tickers)
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe's NATO members and Canada will jointly raise defence spending by 4.3 percent in 2017, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday, partly aimed at showing the United States they are committed to shouldering more costs.
U.S. President Donald Trump has made more expenditure his priority for NATO, using his first alliance meeting in May to scold European leaders about spending, which is at historical lows and does not meet NATO's goal of 2 percent of GDP.
This year's increase represents the fastest spending growth since cuts stopped three years ago. Growth was 1.8 pct in 2015 and 3.3 percent last year, but it was unclear how near the new increase takes spending to the alliance's target.
Figures for individual allies will be released on Thursday, after approval by NATO ambassadors, but overall 2017 spending will be some $280 billion, a cumulative $46 billion jump since cuts left Europe without vital capabilities, such as refuelling airborne fighter bombers.
Only four of NATO's 27 European members - Greece, Britain, Poland and Estonia - met the spending target in 2016. Romania will do so this year, followed by Latvia and Lithuania in 2018, Stoltenberg said.
Twenty five of NATO's 29 allies plan to lift spending this year, he said, a day before NATO defence ministers meet in Brussels to discuss greater security spending on rising threats including deterring a resurgent Russia, dealing with failed states on its borders and protecting against cyber attacks.
"To keep our nations safe, we need to keep working to increase defence spending and fairer burden-sharing across our alliance," Stoltenberg said.
The new figures are part of a broader rise in military spending in Europe, as the United States commits billions more dollars to return troops and heavy weaponry to the continent to deter Russia, and as the European Union seeks to set up a multi-billion-euro defence fund.
"We have really shifted gears, the trend is up and we intend to keep it up," Stoltenberg said.
He said the increase in funds would be spent on more military exercises and equipment, partly aimed at allowing NATO troops to deploy at ever faster notice, as well as salaries and pensions for personnel.
NATO officials stressed that while Trump's tough stance had put the spotlight on defence spending, Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in 2014 had a bigger impact, with allies agreeing to end years of defence cuts.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott Editing by Gabriela Baczynska and Louise Ireland)