Obama presses NATO countries to bulk up defense budgets


President Obama on Tuesday encouraged leaders from Central and Eastern Europe to increase their defense budgets in response to Russian aggression in the region.

"A number of countries represented here have already committed to increasing their investments in our collective defense, and today we’ll be discussing additional steps that we can take both as individual nations and as an alliance to make sure we have the capabilities that we need," Obama said to the assembled leaders during a meeting in Poland.

The presidents of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Latvia, Croatia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, and Slovakia joined Obama in the meeting.

Obama has frequently expressed concern about the extent to which NATO countries have de-emphasized their defense budgets in recent years.

Only four member countries — the U.S., U.K, Greece, and Estonia — spend more than 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense, and nearly every country in the alliance has reduced its military budget in recent years, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal.

By contrast, Russia has increased defense spending by nearly 80 percent over the past decade, according to a Brookings Institution study.

On Tuesday, Obama announced that he would ask Congress to authorize $1 billion in additional spending to ramp up the U.S. military presence in Europe. The additional money would go to to joint military exercises and training missions, supporting U.S. air, land, and sea operations in Europe, and helping modernize the militaries of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.

Separately, Polish leaders announced they would increase their defense budget to match 2 percent of GDP.

"We’re here today because as NATO allies we have to stand absolutely united in our Article 5 commitments to collective defense," Obama said. "We stand together always."

Under the NATO charter, all member nations are compelled to come to the defense of any country that has signed the treaty that comes under attack.

Obama also reiterated his call on European leaders to work to diversify their energy sources to counter Russia, which uses its natural gas supply as political leverage.

"The United States will be exporting more natural gas to the global market in the years to come," Obama said. "But more immediately, there are steps that we can take together to reduce energy risks, upgrade our energy infrastructure and improve efficiency."