US Defence Secretary Mark Esper has called for increasing NATO spending in order to contain Washington’s “top strategic competitors”, including Russia, according to a Pentagon press release.
“We need to deter Russia. We need to strengthen NATO and, again, enhance our partners as we look forward”, Esper said in a telephone interview on Saturday.
He described Russia as “a slightly lesser challenge than China”, which the Pentagon chief claimed “has the ambition to displace the US certainly from the region and preferably on the global stage”.
Referring to NATO, Esper dubbed it a “key” military alliance in Europe and added that the US should continue working with allies “to build NATO readiness”.
"That's everything from making sure that our allies and partners contribute at least 2 percent of their [gross domestic product] to defence. We've made a lot of progress on that in the last couple years, but much, much more needs to be done”, he pointed out.
The Pentagon chief’s remarks came a couple of weeks after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg underscored the alliance’s belief in bolstering ties with Moscow amid fears of a new arms race.
“We believe in dialogue with Russia. We strongly believe in arms control. A new arms race will be dangerous and very costly. Therefore, we continue to work hard for arms control with Russia and that’s part of what we call the dual track, the dialogue approach to Russia”, he told reporters earlier in July.
At the same time, he pointed to Russia modernising its armed forces and increasing its nuclear capabilities, which Stoltenberg said prompts NATO to respond by ensuring the alliance has a credible deterrence and defence.
Moscow, in turn, has repeatedly expressed its concern regarding an increased NATO military presence in Europe, including the alliance’s ongoing eastward expansion. The Kremlin has underscored that Russia poses no threat to other nations, but that it will not ignore actions which endanger its national interests.
According to Moscow, the alliance continues to allege that Russia poses a threat in order to expand its military clout along the country's borders.