WASHINGTON --- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has turned a corner and more nations are increasing defense spending, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday in Brussels.
Stoltenberg spoke at the rollout of his annual report on the alliance.
Five nations -- the United States, Estonia, the United Kingdom, Poland and Greece -- have met the NATO goal of spending two percent of gross domestic product on defense, he said. Romania is set to hit that mark this year and Latvia and Lithuania are on track to hit it next year.
Overall, NATO members have dedicated $10 billion more to defense as they put in place budgets to meet the goal they agreed to at the Warsaw Summit, Stoltenberg said.
New Security Environment
NATO is changing and adapting to the new security environment, the secretary general said. Threats from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria must be addressed and Russian actions must be countered, he said.
"This is what NATO is responding to, but for me it's very hard to compare different threats and challenges," Stoltenberg said. "[ISIS] is a terrorist organization; a brutal organization responsible for terrorist attacks and a brutality we have hardly seen before.
"Russia is a neighbor, Russia is there to stay and we are striving for a more constructive relationship with Russia and therefore I also welcome the fact that we have been able to reactivate the political dialogue with Russia in 2016 with three meetings of the NATO Russia Council," he said.
NATO must remain strong in the face of these changing and continuing threats, and the alliance is doing so, the secretary general said.
Stoltenberg noted specifically alliance commitment to countering Russia in Northeast Europe. "These are the four multinational battlegroups we agreed to deploy -- to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland," he said. "They are arriving as I speak. At least 17 different allied countries will contribute troops to these four battlegroups and we are on track to have all four battlegroups in place by June."
Addressing Cyber Threats
NATO is also addressing other threats, Stoltenberg said. "Cyberattacks are a growing threat and NATO is making good progress on cyber defense," he said. In 2016, NATO experts dealt with an average of 500 cyber incidents per month, a 60 percent increase on the previous year. We have recognized cyber as an operational domain, alongside land, sea and air, and allies have committed to improve their national cyber defenses."
NATO is also helping build stability in areas far from Europe. NATO is still involved in training local forces in Afghanistan with 13,000 service members dedicated to the mission. These forces come from 39 NATO and partner nations. "They are training Afghan forces to help secure their country and deny safe haven to international terrorists," Stoltenberg said. "We have also started training Iraqi forces. Because training local forces is one of the best tools we have."
Supporting the Counter-ISIS Coalition
The alliance has sent training teams to Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. NATO airborne early warning and control aircraft are supporting the global coalition against ISIS, including providing support to NATO member Turkey. Turkey, the secretary general said, is on the front line of the fight against ISIS, and the alliance will continue to augment Turkey's air defenses.
The alliance is strengthening forces in the Mediterranean Sea and is working closely with Persian Gulf nations, the secretary general said. One important change is establishing an intelligence division at NATO headquarters to more easily collect and share information among allies and partners.
"These are all essential steps, but we need to do more," Stoltenberg said. "To expand our efforts to make our neighborhood more stable and I expect that to be an important focus when NATO leaders meet here in Brussels in May."
The secretary general also stressed the discussions the alliance has had with the European Union -- to which many of the NATO nations belong.
"We agreed on 42 different measures to improve cooperation, including on countering hybrid threats, cyber defense and maritime security," he said.