WASHINGTON -- NATO defense ministers approved the creation of two new joint force commands and discussed burden sharing during their meeting in Brussels yesterday.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also announced that for the fourth year in a row, alliance defense spending has grown.
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis is attending the defense ministers meeting for the United States.
The NATO defense ministers approved creation of a joint force command in Norfolk, Virginia, that will ensure alliance maritime security in the Atlantic. They also approved a joint force command to be based in Ulm, Germany. These changes will grow the NATO command structure by more than 1,200 personnel, Stoltenberg said during a news conference.
'THESE HEADQUARTERS WILL BE ESSENTIAL'
"These headquarters will be essential for Alliance reinforcements across the Atlantic and across Europe," he said.
The defense ministers also approved a new NATO Readiness Initiative, called the "Four Thirties" -- 30 battalions, 30 squadrons and 30 ships ready for deployment in 30 days.
"This is not about new forces, but about increasing the readiness of the forces our nations already have," the secretary general said. "This shows our determination to instill a culture of readiness across the alliance."
The leaders addressed defense burden sharing, which is a particular concern of President Donald J. Trump. "Allies are making real progress on all aspects of burden sharing -- cash, capabilities and contributions," the secretary general said.
On the budget side, Stoltenberg announced there has been four consecutive years of real increases in defense spending. "All allies have stopped the cuts," he said. "All allies are increasing defense spending."
More NATO members are spending 2 percent of their nations' gross domestic product on defense and the majority of allies now have plans to do so by 2024, Stoltenberg said.
The European allies and Canada have increased spending by 3.8 percent this year. "This means that, since 2014, European allies and Canada will have spent additionally $87 billion dollars on defense," he said. "When it comes to capabilities, allies have committed to investing 20 percent of their defense spending on major equipment."
Alliance nations have also increased contributions to NATO missions and operations, the secretary general said.
"But of course, we still have more work to do," Stoltenberg said. "Burden sharing will be a key theme of our summit next month, and I expect all allies to continue their efforts."
The defense ministers also discussed cyber defense, he said. Since 2016, allies have enhanced cyber capabilities and looked to build a cyber operations center as part of the new alliance command structure.
"Having agreed the principles last year, we have now agreed to a framework for the integration of sovereign cyber effects into alliance operations and missions," Stoltenberg said. "This supports NATO's overall deterrence and defense because all crises today have a cyber dimension. And we must be as effective in cyberspace as we are on land, at sea and in the air."