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NATO chief backs Trump as pressure builds on member states to increase defense spending

Members of the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Brigade demonstrate urban warfare techniques as Ukrainian soldiers look on on the second day of the 'Rapid Trident' bilateral military exercises between the United States and Ukraine that include troops from a variety of NATO and non-NATO countries on September 16, 2014 near Yavorov, Ukraine.
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Members of the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Brigade demonstrate urban warfare techniques as Ukrainian soldiers look on on the second day of the 'Rapid Trident' bilateral military exercises between the United States and Ukraine that include troops from a variety of NATO and non-NATO countries on September 16, 2014 near Yavorov, Ukraine.

Defense ministers from NATO are under pressure to raise thier contributions to the security group as conflicts grow across the world and as the new U.S. administration urges more compliance from member states.

According to Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO, the group faces "great security challenges" and as a result there needs to be "fair burden-sharing" and higher defense spending.

"We do reduce defense spending in times when tensions are going down, we have to be able to increase defense spending when tensions are going up as they are now," Stoltenberg told reporters on Tuesday.

NATO data confirmed Tuesday showed that last year spending increased in real terms by 3.8 percent among European allies and Canada. This boosted NATO's funds by about $10 billion. Even though such figures were slightly above expectations, Stolenberg told reporters the momentum has to continue.

The new U.S. administration has repeatedly said that all 28 NATO members have to comply with their commitment to the spending target. At the moment, only five of them respect the 2 percent contribution: the U.S., Greece, the U.K., Estonia and Poland.

President Donald Trump has described NATO as "obsolete" and has claimed that it has not been successful in "taking care of terror", adding that European countries need to increase their defense contributions.

"We only ask that all of the NATO members make their full and proper financial contributions to the NATO alliance, which many of them have not been doing," Trump said in a speech last week.

His remarks have not been well-received in Europe, but Stoltenberg agreed with Trump when it comes to members' contributions.

"In my two phone calls with President Trump defense spending has been a main topic and he has strongly expressed his strong commitment to NATO, to the transatlantic bond but at the same time President Trump has in both the phone calls also underlined the importance of a fairer burden sharing… And I agree with him," Stoltenberg told reporters.

A 'fundamental bedrock' 

Stoltenberg received the U.S. defense secretary James Mattis, ahead of a ministers meeting this Wednesday in Brussels. They told reporters that the main purpose of the gathering is to work on the new security challenges that NATO faces and "burden-sharing" at a "crucial time" for the transatlantic alliance.

"Neither Europe, nor North American can tackle (the new security challenges) alone," Stoltenberg told the press.

Despite Trump's comments of NATO becoming "obsolete", Mattis reiterated the U.S.' commitment to NATO, describing the organization as a "fundamental bedrock for the United States."

"(Trump) has strong support for NATO," Mattis told reporters in Brussels.

Later this year, Trump is set to attend a NATO leaders' meeting where spending is set to remain a key topic.

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