BRUSSELS -- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has urged member-states to step up defense spending, speaking on the eve of U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis's first meeting with his 27 counterparts in Brussels.
"After many years with steep cuts in defense spending, we have turned a corner," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on February 14, adding that spending by European NATO allies and Canada increased by 3.8 percent in 2016.
"This is significantly higher than what we had originally foreseen. And it amounts to roughly 10 billion dollars more for our defense," Stoltenberg said. "This makes a difference but it is absolutely vital that we keep up the momentum."
The NATO chief said that "defense spending has been the main topic" in his two telephone conversations with U.S. President Donald Trump.
"He has strongly expressed his strong commitment to NATO, to the transatlantic bond, but at the same time...underlined the importance of fairer burden sharing," Stoltenberg said.
In 2014, the year Russia seized Crimea and backed separatists in a war in eastern Ukraine, NATO leaders committed to halt defense spending cuts and move to raise their military budgets to 2 percent of gross domestic product within a decade.
Twenty-four of the 28 members have stopped cutting defense spending.
Stoltenberg said the United States, Britain, Poland, Greece, and Estonia are "already meeting the 2 percent target," while Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania are getting close.
With reporting by AP and Reuters