Boris Johnson urges Nato allies to boost military spending

The British PM said there needs to be "a conversation within Nato" about a new target for defence investment after 2024. PHOTO: AFP

MADRID (AFP, REUTERS) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will urge his Nato allies at a summit in Madrid to boost their defence spending in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, his office said on Tuesday (June 28).

After Russia occupied Crimea in 2014, member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) pledged to spend at least 2 per cent of their gross domestic product on defence to ensure the readiness of the alliance by 2024.

Only eight of Nato's 30 members met or surpassed this target in 2021, but a number of nations such as Germany and Italy have boosted their defence spending this year due to the war in Ukraine.

"We need allies - all allies - to dig deep to restore deterrence and ensure defence in the decade ahead," Mr Johnson will tell the Nato summit in Madrid on Wednesday, his office said in a statement.

"The 2 per cent was always meant to be a floor, not a ceiling and allies must continue to step up in this time of crisis," he will add.

On the flight to Madrid, the British prime minister said there needs to be "a conversation within Nato" about a new target for defence investment after 2024.

Nato "must adapt to meet new and increased threats" with "long-term investment" as well as a readiness "to surge defence spending to adapt to crises and urgent needs", the British government said in a statement.

Mr Johnson will also announce at the summit that Britain would ensure rapid reinforcements for Estonia if required, and would deploy artillery, air defence and helicopters in the country. Estonia was annexed by the former Soviet Union in 1940 and gained independence in 1991.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been calling for their region to receive the biggest build-up of combat-ready Nato forces in Europe since the end of the Cold War, fearing they could be next.

Britain has provided massive military support worth 1.3 billion euros (S$1.9 billion) to Ukraine since Russia's invasion.

Mr Johnson, however, is criticised by the opposition and some lawmakers of his own party for reneging on his election promise to increase military spending in 2022 beyond the rate of inflation, which is expected to hit over 10 per cent this year.

Britain’s defence spending is projected to reach 2.3 per cent of its gross domestic product this year due to increased military support for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion of that country, the government said in a statement late on Tuesday.

The estimate came after British Defence Minister Ben Wallace called for more funding, saying that Britain must bolster its defence investment to tackle threats not only from Russia but from China and other countries.

Mr Wallace has urged Mr Johnson to increase the defence budget to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2028, according to a Talk TV report.

Britain’s new projection would be above Nato’s estimate that it would spend 2.12 per cent of GDP on defence this year, and higher than an estimated 2.26 per cent in 2021.

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