Eastern Europe must quickly increase defense budgets, former Trump appointee warns

Baltic nations are leading European NATO countries in surpassing the alliance target of spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, but that may not be enough if former President Trump wins another term in November, according to a former administration official.

“The United States has a commitment to come to the aid of NATO countries that are attacked. That is not the same thing as saying we should throw our entire military [to the eastern flank],” Elbridge Colby, a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense in the Trump administration, told Politico.

Poland currently leads all countries by spending just more than 4 percent of its GDP on defense in 2024, followed by Estonia at 3.43 percent, the United States at 3.38 percent, Latvia at 3.15 percent, Greece at 3.08 percent and Lithuania at 2.85 percent.

But Colby, expected to be nominated for another top job if Trump is reelected, said Eastern European countries must spend far more than 2 percent of their GDP in the face of Russia.

“I don’t think it’s pretty impressive that Lithuania is spending 3 percent; Estonia spends 3 percent. If I were them, I would spend 10, if they’re serious about how threatening the Russians are,” he said. “I think what Europeans need to understand is that they need to build up their military as soon as humanly possible.”

For their part, Baltic defense officials on Tuesday agreed with Colby’s sentiment, somewhat.

“Our voice here is very clear that we say that 2 percent is not enough,” Estonia Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur said during a Politico event on defenses against Russia and the war in Ukraine.

“We need to invest more to get more capabilities … We must go to 2.5, maybe even to 3 percent.”

Laurynas Kasčiūnas, Lithuania’s minister of national defense, said the Baltic countries are finding ways to ways to build up their militaries via weapons and equipment procurement from the United States defense industry.

Another Trump presidency “could be a reality. You should work with that,” he said.

In 2024, two-thirds of allies are expected to meet or exceed the target of investing at least 2 percent of GDP in defense, a major jump compared to the only three that met it in 2014, according to NATO.

In 2024, NATO’s European allies are predicted to invest a combined total of more than $380 billion in defense.

But Trump, who has often lambasted NATO as obsolete and has threatened to pull the United States from the organization, has raised fears of effectively dismantling the 75-year-old alliance.

Officials from the 32 NATO nations this week have descended upon Washington, D.C., to discuss the future of the alliance, with a possible U.S. president changeover at the front of minds.

“We do not have to be afraid that there will be a new president of United States or [if] the Biden administration will continue,” Pevkur said. “As Europeans, we have to remember that we are all members of the club and we have to work with any administration.”

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