UK defense chief: NATO members need to spend beyond 2% defense target

Cabinet meeting with British PM Keir Starmer at Downing Street

By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - British Defence Secretary John Healey said on Wednesday other NATO members would need to go beyond the alliance's target of committing 2% of GDP to military spending and that Europe would have to do more of the "heavy lifting" whatever the outcome of November's U.S. election.

Healey was speaking on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Washington a day after new British Prime Minister Keir Starmer vowed to fulfill a campaign pledge to increase U.K. defense spending to 2.5% of annual GDP, but stressed he would only do so when the country could afford it and after a review of defense strategy.

The focus on NATO military outlays has sharpened amid Russia's war in Ukraine, and leaders meeting this week were putting together a new aid package for Kyiv.

Republican candidate Donald Trump has suggested that should he win a second term against Democratic President Joe Biden in the election, he would not defend NATO members if they did not meet the defense spending target of 2% of their GDP. He has also questioned the amount of aid given to Ukraine.

An analysis of U.K. defense spending published in April by the previous Conservative government showed NATO-qualifying defense spending was expected to be 2.32% of GDP in the 2024-2025 financial year.

In 2014, the alliance agreed to a 2% target to ensure military readiness. This year, 23 of the 32 member countries will hit that level.

Healey told reporters: "Any assessment of the growing threats that we face and the global instability suggest that all NATO nations are going to need to do more than simply 2%."

"As European nations, we need to recognize that for America, whatever the result of the presidential election, the priority is increasingly going to shift to the Indo-Pacific, so that the European nations in NATO must do more of the heavy lifting," he said.

"The U.S. should rightly look to European nations to pick up some of the financial burden, but also the leadership role responsibilities as well," Healey added.

Asked whether his government was worried about NATO's future if Trump returns to office, Healey said no matter who was in the White House over the past 75 years, the view has been "a strong, stable, democratic Europe is in America's best interest".

"Our British government will work well and work hard with whoever the American people decide to elect," he said.

Starmer, whose Labour Party won a landslide victory last week, has pledged to maintain the Conservatives' support for Ukraine.

(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Angus MacSwan)