One NATO Member Thinks Trump Is Right

  • Lithuanian Defense Minister Karoblis speaks in interview
  • Government may push defense expenditure to 2.5%/GDP by 2020

President Trump: We Strongly Support NATO

U.S. President Donald Trump was correct to single out NATO members that aren’t pulling their weight, according to one Baltic nation that’s planning to eclipse the military alliance’s spending target in the coming years.

Reaching NATO’s expenditure goal of 2 percent of gross domestic product benefits the whole Western world by enhancing security, according to Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis. The country of 3 million people plans to meet the threshold next year, and may push further, to 2.5 percent by 2020, he said in an interview in Vilnius, the capital.

“Mr. Trump was very right to send messages during the election campaign that Europe needs to invest more in defense,” Karoblis said Friday. “It’s really a wake-up call for all European Union member states.”

Trump’s rise has rattled U.S. allies from the Baltics to Ukraine, with both forced to watch on as the new American leader’s rapport with Russian President Vladimir Putin blossoms. The European Council agreed late last year that EU member states should comply with NATO’s defense-spending guidelines. Security has once again come to the fore amid a flare-up in eastern Ukraine between government troops and Kremlin-backed insurgents.

“The security situation doesn’t allow us to relax,” Karoblis said.

While Trump has called NATO “obsolete,” he now says he backs the alliance. “We strongly support NATO,” Trump said Monday at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Florida. Even so, the U.S. “wants full and proper” contributions from NATO allies and many have been “not even close” in reaching the targets, he said.

Estonia, which -- like Lithuania -- shares a border with Russia, is already exceeding NATO spending guidelines. And it’s confident the U.S. will remain a reliable partner.

Questioning Commitment

“Obviously we’re not happy when there are rhetorical statements that could raise doubts about the commitment of Americans to meet their allied duties in case the Europeans aren’t contributing more,” Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser said Monday in a television interview. “But I believe there are enough people in the new administration that have knowledge and experience about the needs and peculiarities of European security."

Estonia is allocating a record 481 million euros ($500 million), or 2.2 percent of GDP, on defense this year, excluding the cost of hosting troops from NATO allies. It will buy 12 self-propelled howitzers from South Korean Hanwha Techwin in coming years for about $100 million in a joint procurement with Finland, the Postimees newspaper said Tuesday, citing media reports from the Asian nation.

Karoblis said Lithuania’s defense needs are “really quite significant,” with tasks including developing infrastructure, increasing military staff and modernizing weapons. The Defense Ministry plans to open a centralized procurement agency early next year to boost efficiency. Equipment purchases swallow about a third of the military budget.

Aside from spending, other questions may arise over NATO functions, according to Karoblis. They could include efforts to boost the alliance’s counter-terrorism focus, he said.

“Instead of making doubts or worries of the U.S. administration, we need to work with Mr. Trump,” Karoblis said. “They also need allies.”

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