BRUSSELS , June 23 (UPI) -- The United States, at NATO talks in Brussels this week, will renew its demand for member nations to increase their defense spending.
Citing the Ukraine crisis and an increase in multinational military exercises across Europe, U.S. calls to increase defense spending to two percent of gross domestic product have been heeded by only four of the 28 NATO members: Britain, Greece, Estonia and the United States.
"I think it's clearly the view at NATO that the Ukraine situation has been a game-changer," said Robert Bell, the European representative of the U.S. secretary of defense. He added he thought an upcoming NATO summit meeting could be among the most important in the history of the organization.
The summit, planned in the fall in Wales, should "kickstart NATO," a British official said.
British and U.S. officials have contended Russia's annexation of Crimea and alleged involvement in Ukraine are demonstrations of Russia's modernization of its military forces and rapid deployment capabilities. They argue NATO members need to make a commitment, in increased spending, to their mutual defense.
A NATO troop exercise in Latvia this week, although planned prior to the Ukraine crisis, was an example of demonstrating solidarity and capability to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia -- three NATO members who are former Soviet Union republics. Some NATO countries joined the exercises, and others increased their troop commitment to the activities as a result of Russia's seizure of Crimea.
Finland, not a NATO member, was a participant, and although public opinion in Finland has opposed membership, Finnish Defense Minister Carl Haglund noted last week the events in Crimea could change the public's attitude, saying, "I think the grounds for NATO membership are stronger than ever."