Italy pushes back NATO defense spending target to 2028 in coalition compromise

FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister-elect Draghi and his new government are sworn in in Rome
FILE PHOTO: New Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi holds the cabinet minister’s bell next to outgoing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte during the handover ceremony at the Prime Minister’s office at Chigi Palace in Rome, Italy February 13, 2021. Andrew Medichini/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

March 31, 2022

By Crispian Balmer and Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) – Italy will only meet NATO’s target of spending 2% of GDP on defense in 2028, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Thursday, confirming it will fall short of an original 2024 target after opposition within his ruling coalition.

The government currently allocates around 1.4 percent of economic output to military spending and would have needed to increase its defense budget by €12 billion ($13.4 billion) over the next two years to meet a target that members of the Atlantic Alliance 2014.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, no one expected Italy to meet the 2024 timetable, but the conflict has increased pressure on NATO countries to bolster their armed forces.

Draghi said Italy would honor its international commitments but the ruling 5 Star Movement had threatened to torpedo any waste, saying the money would be better spent on alleviating poverty.

Draghi resigned from a possible political collapse, telling foreign correspondents that the 2024 deadline should be seen as “an indication, not a target”, adding that 2028 is a more achievable target.

“This is a goal we must strive for with continuity and realism,” he said.

The 5-Star said this week spending should gradually increase over the next eight years and signaled 2028 was an acceptable compromise.

“Today, thanks to 5-Star, we can finally all agree that this goal is a trend and needs to be extended well beyond 2024,” the party said in a statement.

Of the other heavyweights within the multiparty coalition, the centre-left Democratic Party also backed a target date of 2028, while the far-right Lega publicly expressed no preference.

Italy was sixth from the bottom in 29-nation NATO in terms of defense spending by GDP in 2021, NATO said. About 60.5% of the budget was spent on salaries, the second-highest percentage within the Alliance, leaving proportionately less money for military procurement, training, maintenance, and infrastructure.

The dispute over military spending comes as the parties jostle for positions ahead of next year’s elections.

Led by former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte but struggling in the polls, the 5-star company has pacifist roots and is trying to draw on strong resistance in Italy to boosting arms purchases.

An EMG opinion poll released on Tuesday found that 54% of Italians were against increasing the defense budget to 2% of GDP, while just 23% were in favor.

Draghi told reporters that the ideal would be if European Union nations pooled their military spending. “If we are serious about European defence, we need to immediately coordinate actions and understand who is spending how much and on what,” he said.

($1 = 0.8974 euros)

(edited by John Stonestreet) Italy pushes back NATO defense spending target to 2028 in coalition compromise

Bobby Allyn

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