Washington, March 24 : Spanish Defence Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal has reaffirmed Madrid’s commitment to spend two per cent of its GDP on defence, but not before the 2024 deadline established by NATO.
Cospedal on Thursday met US Defence Secretary James Mattis at the Pentagon here, Efe news reported.
The Spanish official said at a press conference afterwards that Spain, one of the NATO countries with the lowest military spending was committed to increasing spending on defence by 2024, when the 10-year period agreed to in September 2014 by the alliance’s members expires.
“We spoke about reaching that (two per cent) commitment. Obviously, internal US policy changes, but Spain’s policy does, too,” Cospedal said.
Cospedal had earlier on Wednesday attended a ministerial meeting to discuss combating jihadism, organised by the Department of State where Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis also participated.
US President Donald Trump has insisted that NATO partners who are not meeting the minimum percentage agreed to within the Atlantic Alliance must increase their defence spending, given that the US, in his judgment, is shouldering too much of the burden.
During the 2016 election campaign, Trump said that NATO was obsolete and that the US should not bear a disproportionate amount of the burden of other nations’ defence, remarks he moderated upon winning the November election, but which continue to spark controversy.
After last week’s visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House, Trump tweeted that Germany “owes money” to the US for the contribution Washington has made to collective European defence, one of the pillars of the Western international order.
Cospedal acknowledged that Spain spends less than one percent of its GDP on defence, making it one of the NATO members farthest from the two per cent threshold, ahead of only Luxemburg, according to NATO figures.
The US, UK, Greece, Estonia and Poland are at or above the two per cent mark, while Mattis recently said that he hopes that four other countries will join that group within a year.
“I relayed to (Mattis) the Spanish commitment to fulfil that percentage … within a decade,” the Spanish minister said.
“Mattis informed me that he is aware of Spain’s promise and that fulfilling it is important for the maintenance of the Atlantic Alliance,” she said.
Cospedal added that she had reminded Mattis of Spain’s contribution to international missions.
“Spain is one of the European Union countries with the highest percentage of defence spending devoted to international missions,” she said.
Spain sends troops on peacekeeping missions abroad, including the US-led mission against the Islamic State (IS) terror group in Iraq, where Madrid recently increased its troop contingent by 150, adding to the 300 soldiers already deployed on a training mission.
The minister also said that US military bases in Spain, including Moron and Rota, provide an “incalculable” benefit.
Meanwhile, Mattis emphasised the threat to NATO’s “southern flank” and noted that Spain is a key ally due to its geographic location in pursuing operations in Libya, where the IS has an important presence.
He also emphasised the two countries’ common front against “growing” threats elsewhere in Europe.