After Trump letter, Spanish PM avoids committing to more military spending

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Pedro Sánchez’s statements come in response to the US president urging Spain to increase its defense contributions.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Tuesday told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that a country’s contribution to global security cannot be measured simply by a spending percentage, but also by other parameters such as “availability of military capacity” and “the willingness to use it.”

The Socialist Party (PSOE) leader made these remarks at a Madrid meeting with the head of NATO on the same day that it emerged that Spain, like several other NATO allies, had received a letter from US President Donald Trump complaining that they are not contributing enough to collective defense.

The letter urged Sánchez to increase military spending to 2% of gross domestic product (GDP), as promised at the Wales summit of 2014. Spain is one of the NATO members that spends the least on defense: 0.92% of GDP in 2017, only ahead of Belgium (0.90%) and Luxembourg (0.46%).

Stoltenberg was visiting Madrid as part of a tour to discuss preparations for the NATO summit in Brussels scheduled for July 11 and 12. At the end of the meeting, the Spanish government issued a press release stating that Sánchez told Stoltenberg that Spain “has shown itself to be a firm ally that is committed to Euro-Atlantic security.”

The statement notes that Spain has deployed 1,161 troops on NATO missions, 616 on UN missions and 757 on EU missions. Spain is also part of the Global Coalition Against Daesh, to which it has contributed 581 members of the military who are helping train the Iraqi army.

The release does not mention Trump’s letter, the content of which EL PAÍS revealed on Tuesday. The US president reminded Sánchez that his predecessor, Mariano Rajoy, had pledged to raise defense spending during a bilateral meeting in Washington DC in September 2017.

NATO has also issued a release with remarks by Stoltenberg, who said that “Spain has stopped the cuts to defense spending and started to increase it.” Stoltenberg also commended Spain “for investing in modern capabilities and making significant contributions to NATO missions and operations,” including “participation in a NATO battle group in Latvia and in NATO’s Air Policing mission in the Baltics; as well as for contributions to NATO’s training efforts in Afghanistan and in Iraq.”

Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, alluded to Trump’s letter by stating that even though Spain spends less than 2% of GDP on defense, it does so “in a very active manner” by participating in all NATO and EU missions. “So we spend less, but we use it really well.”

Spanish diplomatic sources underscored that some NATO allies with much higher defense spending, such as Turkey or Greece, have a much smaller participation in NATO missions and focus essentially on self-defense.