Europeans must increase military spending to protect peace and independence as tensions between Russia and NATO continue to flare up, two senior Lithuanian officials told The Associated Press this week. The officials said President-elect Donald Trump's remarks during his campaign that NATO members must pay up if they want support from the U.S. are spot on.
"President Donald Trump said that Europe in general should put more attention on defense and we fully agree," Defense Minister Juozas Olekas said Monday. "The peace and independence of our country is very important and we should put attention on that and not only waiting and relying for everything on the United States."
In a separate interview with The Associated Press, Lithuania's foreign minister said he didn't think the U.S. would actually turn its back on NATO members under a Trump administration. "I hope and believe — and I can't imagine otherwise — that the U.S. will remain a key player in the world and also a leader of NATO," Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said Tuesday.
Russia has been particularly assertive about holding military drills near the Baltic region in recent months after military operations in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, prompting nations such as Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, to debate increased military spending.
"We need a credible deterrence policy in the Baltic region to influence the Russian calculus to make the costs of interference too high," Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves warned in May. He has seen been replaced by President Kersti Kaljulaid.
NATO requires its 28 members to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense, but few do. The median NATO member spending in 2015 was 1.18 percent of GDP, while the U.S. spends 3.7 percent of its GDP on defense. Lithuania plans this year to spend 1.8 percent on defense after reintroducing compulsory military conscription last year.
"Frankly it was true and Europeans must deliver more," Linkevicius said of Trump's call for NATO members to increase spending.
NATO troops are holding military drills in Lithuania this week, while NATO leaders have called on Russia to maintain peace in the region.