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As Trump blasts NATO allies for not paying for defense, these front-line countries are readying for war

As Trump blasts NATO allies for not paying for defense, these front-line countries are readying for war
  • Trump continued his tirade against NATO members he says aren't paying their "fair share."

  • As Russia's war in Ukraine threatens NATO, the Baltic states say they're investing in defense more than ever.

  • The efforts include increased spending, buying new weapons, and reinstating conscription.

Former President Donald Trump has long expressed his vitriolic opinions on NATO, often suggesting some European members don't pay their "fair share" and take advantage of the US.

But as Russia's bloody war in Ukraine enters its third year, and the threat to NATO countries, particularly those on Russia's borders, grows, the Baltic states are investing in their defense more than ever.

At a Hudson Institute event in Washington DC on Monday morning, days before the 20th anniversary of their countries' ascensions into NATO, the foreign ministers of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia explained the gravity of the current war in Ukraine and what it could mean for future Russian aggression, particularly towards NATO members.

"We have no other options" besides supporting Ukraine and ensuring it wins, Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said, highlighting that NATO and the West "would pay" heavily should Russia win and expand its ambitions to conquering other neighbors.

Experts and officials have long suggested that should Russia be successful in beating Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin would feel emboldened to continue his conquest, which could even involve invading NATO members, triggering full-scale war between the nuclear-armed adversaries.

During the talk, the three ministers also spoke to the US' shaky involvement in supporting Ukraine, with the latest aid package stuck in congressional limbo. Many countries, including China, are watching what will happen at the end of the war, Tsahkna said, "So, I think that [the] US must wake up as well, showing the leadership more because Europe is doing more right now."

NATO navies Baltic Operations exercise
Ships from NATO navies sail in formation in the Baltic Sea during the exercise Baltic Operations 2023 on June 4, 2023.US Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Shawn Coover

The talk came just on the heels of Trump's most recent attack on NATO members who he deems aren't paying their 'fair share." Last week, the former president said that he would keep the US in NATO should European countries pay and "play fair." He said the US "was paying 90% of NATO," and that without the US, NATO "literally doesn't even exist."

"It's more important for [European countries] than it is to us. We have an ocean in between [us and] some problems," Trump said. "They took advantage of us on trade."

The NATO alliance benefits from the US's vast nuclear arsenal and roughly 100,000 US troops in Europe. The alliance has set guidelines for each ally to spend at least 2% of its GDP on its military; 18 of the 32 member states are expected to meet this goal this year.

This is far from the first Trump has complained about US involvement in NATO or made erroneous claims about the alliance. Last month, Trump's comments at a campaign rally that he would "encourage" Russia 'to do whatever the hell they want" to NATO allies who aren't hitting the spending target received widespread criticism.

During his first term as president, Trump often bashed NATO, raising anxieties that the US would either pull out of the alliance or not respond to an Article 5 situation, when an ally is attacked and the rest of the alliance comes to its defense. Now, if Trump were to be reelected this year, he'd have a much harder time with that, as Congress passed a bill in December that prevents a president from withdrawing from NATO without Congressional approval.

A french soldier takes part in a major drill as part of NATO's "enhanced forward presence" (EFP) deployment in Poland and the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, at the Tapa estonian army camp near Rakvere on February 5, 2022.
A french soldier takes part in a major drill as part of NATO's "enhanced forward presence" (EFP) deployment in Poland and the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, at the Tapa estonian army camp near Rakvere on February 5, 2022.ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images

Trump's comments have often missed the point on the progress made across NATO to both deter Russia and boost defenses. Many European states, the Baltics included, have long sent military aid to Ukraine and recently upped their assistance packages. Just last week, France and Germany agreed to co-produce military equipment for Ukraine on Ukrainian soil, a major step to getting troops spare parts, munitions, and complete weapons systems.

Germany also agreed to send a hefty aid package, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz is still refusing to send long-range Taurus missiles after months of debate.

And earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron refused to rule out sending troops to Ukraine. While his stance isn't held by many other European leaders, it does indicate a growing view that the war in Ukraine is becoming, as Macron said, "existential" to Europe.

The Baltics understand that sentiment well; the threat of Putin's aggression is right on their doorstep. While talking about how NATO's military spending compared to Russia's, Latvia Foreign Minister Krišjānis Kariņš emphasized how the Baltic countries are preparing to deter and counter Russia.

"So in Latvia, and in my neighbors, we go full out," Kariņš said. "We invest in our own defense, budgeted 2.4% this year, it looks like we're going to hit 3% this year, and we will be going beyond that in the future as well."

An Eurofighter Typhoon of the german airforce pictured on September 10, 2014, over Estonia.
An Eurofighter Typhoon of the german airforce pictured on September 10, 2014, over Estonia.Thomas Wiegold/Photothek via Getty Images

Many NATO members — 18, according to projections from earlier this year — are spending at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense, while the remaining members are being urged to swiftly meet that target. That's seven more than 2023. In 2014, only three NATO allies met that threshold.

Last year's numbers indicated Poland spent 3.90% of its GDP, just above the US at 3.49% and Greece at 3.01%. Many nations bordering Russia or Belarus also increased their spending. Estonia spent 2.73%, Lithuania 2.54%, and Latvia 2.07%. Finland, Romania, and Hungary also spent over the 2% threshold.

Kariņš also said there were other major steps being taken to prepare defenses for Russia. "We've reinstated conscription, so we're building up our armed forces," an unpopular move that Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs is pushing other NATO members to do, too. "Nobody wants to fight," Rinkēvičs told The Financial Times. "But the problem is nobody wants to be invaded as well. And nobody wants to see Ukraine happening here."

Kariņš also said Latvia and the other Baltic states were purchasing more weapons systems and increasing NATO's military presence in the Baltics. Just last month, Germany announced plans to deploy two combat battalions, or around 5,000 troops, to Lithuania, the first such move for the country since World War II. The goal is to deter Russian aggression against the country, as well as reinforce Lithuania's defenses.

And this past weekend, the US approved a total $228 aid package to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which will go towards fast-tracking military infrastructure and development projects involving air and maritime defenses, as well as land forces.

Read the original article on Business Insider