18:30 GMT02 June 2020
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    Billionaire businessman and Republican frontrunner for the US presidency Donald Trump has blasted NATO allies for being over-reliant on the US, failing to make their way and suggesting the military alliance could break up.

    Trump told a campaign rally in Racine, Wisconsin that allies in NATO "are not paying their fair share" and called the 28-nation alliance "obsolete."

    "We are protecting them and they are getting all sorts of military protection and other things and they're ripping off the United States and they're ripping you off. I don't care. I don't want to do that. Either they pay up including for past deficiencies or they have to get out. And if it breaks up NATO it breaks up NATO," Trump said.

    The NATO partners made a commitment to maintain the goal of spending two percent of their GDP on defense at a meeting in Wales in 2014. However, austerity measures throughout Europe have put a strain on government spending on defense.

    The US has pushed for an increase in resources in Eastern Europe as the US-dominated organization continues to put pressure on Russia over Ukraine.

    Military Build-Up

    NATO has been gradually building up its forces in Europe for over a decade, but has recently undertaken a huge increase in its presence in the Baltic region and Eastern Europe. The NATO Response Force (NRF) was originally set up following the Prague summit in 2002 as a multinational force made up of land, air, maritime and Special Operations Forces (SOF) that could deploy quickly.

    Since then, there has been a steady build-up of forces, particularly around Russia. NATO Allies decided to enhance the NRF in 2014 by creating a "Spearhead Force" within it, known as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF).

    In June 2015, the alliance held a huge exercise in the Baltic, with 49 ships, 61 aircraft, one submarine, and a combined amphibious landing force of 700 US Finnish and Swedish troops alongside NATO partners Finland, Georgia and Sweden. Overall, 5,600 troops took part.

    In November 2015, the leaders of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Poland and Slovakia have called for an increased NATO presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltic. The defense ministers meeting in Brussels Wednesday are due to confirm plans for a massive presence in the Baltic and Eastern Europe region.

    British media reported ahead of the meeting that five UK warships and about 530 Royal Navy personnel will be sent as part of what sources described as "NATO's largest military build-up in eastern Europe since the Cold War."

    At a press conference before the meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO was: "increasing our presence in the eastern part of the alliance with more assurance measures meaning planes, air policing, naval presence in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, increased naval presence and also more boots on the ground with more exercises and troops."

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    Tags:
    NATO buildup, NATO expansion, army, military, troops, Spearhead Force, NATO, Donald Trump, United States, Eastern Europe
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