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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 15, 2020.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 15, 2020. (NATO)

STUTTGART, Germany — Militaries shouldn’t have to foot the whole bill when they deploy troops for NATO missions, the alliance’s top official said Monday ahead of high-level talks that will include a debate about overhauling how operations are paid for.

“It will be fair if the country that deploys troops doesn’t cover all the costs,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during a virtual news conference from his Brussels headquarters, ahead of talks Wednesday where U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other allied defense leaders will discuss issues ranging from defense spending to security matters, including the future of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan and its training mission in Iraq.

In recent years, and particularly under the Trump administration, much of the U.S.’s focus has been on getting all allies to spend 2% of GDP on their individual militaries. Stoltenberg said he expects nine of 30 allies to hit that benchmark in 2021, which will also be the seventh consecutive year that allied defense budgets increase overall.

But other changes are needed to ensure equitable “burden sharing,” he said.

One way to achieve that will be to increase NATO’s shared defense budget and use those funds to support missions, such as air policing in the Baltics or multinational battle group deployments along NATO’s eastern flank. Currently, the nation that deploys troops on such missions pays the bill.

“I think that we should change that so that actually NATO contributes to covering those costs,” Stoltenberg said.

He did not detail how he sees costs being spread out, but said that making more allies pay for NATO missions would serve as an incentive for other members to get involved in defense efforts.

“This would support allied deployments in our battlegroups in the eastern part of our alliance, air policing, maritime deployments and exercises,” Stoltenberg said.

Adjusting how missions are funded could benefit the U.S., which leads a battlegroup in Poland and regularly contributes to other operations, such as air policing efforts in the Baltics.

vandiver.john@stripes.com Twitter: @john_vandiver

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