00:26 GMT01 June 2020
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    Military expenditure rose to US$1686 billion in 2016, up 0.4 percent in real terms on 2015's total, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) figures. Much of the increase was driven by boosted defense spending in Europe, in response to a perceived Russian threat - a notion SIPRI itself regards as fantastical.

    The rise marked the second consecutive year of increased defense spending worldwide, and the first consecutive annual increase since 2011, when spending reached a historic high of US$1699 billion.

    Spending oscillated significantly between regions, falling in the Caribbean, Central America, South America and sub-Saharan Africa, but rising significantly in Europe for the second consecutive year.

    In Western Europe alone, military expenditure rose by 2.6 percent. All but three countries registered increases, with Italy's spending leaping most, by 11 percent. Central and Eastern European countries accounted for the largest relative increases, with budgets growing 2.4 percent.

    SIPRI's report notes European defense budgets are expanding due to a perception of a "greater Russian threat," but also highlights how ludicrous this notion is — the country's 2016 defense budget (US$69.2 billion) equals a mere 27 percent of NATO's European members' combined budgets.

    Such a disconnect between alleged perception and perceivable reality is nothing new in NATO terms. 

    In March, Bruno Kahl, president of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, spoke of a growing Russian military threat to NATO on the very same day 130 British soldiers landed at Amari Air Base in Estonia — part of a wider plan to deploy four multinational NATO battalions in the Baltic states and Poland.

    British soldiers arrive at Amari military air base in Estonia, March 17, 2017.
    © REUTERS / Ints Kalnins
    British soldiers arrive at Amari military air base in Estonia, March 17, 2017.

    The obvious question, and one Russian ministers have often asked, is — who is this enlargement directed at?

    The notion of a Russian threat to NATO is even more dubious once the defense spending of non-European members — which likewise rose in 2016 — is factored into bloc's budget. Its total spending rose to US$918.3 billion in 2016, 54.5 percent of the world total. The US naturally accounts for the lion's share of the alliance's spending — and its expenditure was boosted by 1.7 percent in 2016 to US$611 billion.

    Of course, this figure has since been catapulted yet higher by incoming President Donald Trump, to US$639 billion. While spending still remains 20 percent under its implausible 2010 peak, SIPRI troublingly speculates these increases signal a conclusive reversal of declining US defense spending since the financial crisis.

    Moreover, Trump has repeatedly demanded NATO members loosen their defense purse strings yet more in future, with the president stating in his first Congressional address that the alliance would only survive if its 28 members all paid their way.

    "We expect our partners to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost, and meet their financial obligations," he said.

    Should all members pay the mandated two percent sum, the disparity between the alliance's total budget and Russia's would be even more asymmetrical, and be further testament to the ludicrousness of the claim it is Russia that poses a military threat.

    However, such efforts by the Trump administration may come to naught. Several prominent European political figures have made clear they have no desire to meet the target — most notably German Foreign Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who has said he views NATO's two percent of GDP defense spending target as a guideline, not a binding requirement. Germany currently spends around 1.2 percent of its GDP on defense, or around US$37 billion (€35 billion) — by definition, to reach two percent would necessitate almost doubling that figure, a prospect Gabriel dubbed "totally unrealistic."

    "I don't know any German politician who would claim that is reachable or desirable. We respect the two percent [figure], but it was formulated as a guideline, not a goalpost," he said.


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