Trump expects real progress on NATO spending by end-2017: Mike Pence

US President Donald Trump expects NATO allies to make real progress by the end of this year towards meeting the increased defence spending target agreed by the alliance, his Vice President Mike Pence said today.

“The president and the American people expect our allies to keep their word and to do more in our common defence … the president expects real progress by the end of 2017,” he said. “If you have a plan to get there, our alliance needs you to accelerate it,” Pence said. “If you don’t yet have a plan, these are my words, not his — get one. It is time for actions, not words.”

NATO leaders, stung by Russian intervention in Ukraine, decided in 2014 to increase defence spending to the equivalent of two per cent of national economic output but progress since then has been painfully slow. Trump warned repeatedly on the campaign trail last year that the allies could no longer expect a free ride and Pence repeated the message after talks with NATO head Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis delivered a similar message at a NATO defence ministers meeting last week, saying Washington could “moderate” its commitment if allies fail to pay up. Trump sent Pence, Mattis and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Europe in the past week to reassure nervous allies that the new administration would stand by near-70 year US commitments to NATO and European security in the face of a more assertive Russia.

But all three also drove home the message that the allies must play their part in full or that commitment would inevitably be called into question. “America will do our part but Europe’s defence requires Europe’s commitment as much as ours,” Pence said Monday. Stoltenberg stressed his agreement with the two percent spending target, saying the issue was his “top priority” as he also welcomed Washington’s reassurances.

So far, of the 28 NATO members, only the United States, Britain, Poland, Greece and Estonia have met the two percent target. The target is controversial however — critics say a blind drive to two percent ignores a commitment in kind made by some countries, such as France or Briain, in mounting anti-terror operations on their own account.

Additionally, if Germany for example were to meet the target, it would mean a 30 billion euros increase in Berlin’s military budget to some 70 billion euros. That would make it Europe’s biggest military spender and as diplomatic sources put it, cause some of Germany’s neighbours some unease. German spending currently runs at 1.2 percent of output while the United States spends 3.6 percent and accounts for more than 70 percent of combined NATO outlays.