"After years of decline, in 2015 we saw a real increase in defense spending across European Allies and Canada. In 2016, this continued and this year, in 2017, we foresee an even greater annual real increase of 4.3%," the NATO chief told reporters in Brussels ahead of the meeting of NATO Defense Ministers on Thursday.

"This means, over the last three years, European Allies and Canada spent almost 46 billion US dollars more on defense. So we have really shifted gears. The trend is up and we intend to keep it up," Stoltenberg said, adding 25 Allies planned to increase defense spending in real terms this year.

"Last year, five Allies met NATO's benchmark of spending 2% of GDP on defense. This year, we expect Romania to join them and in 2018, Latvia and Lithuania will spend 2% of GDP on defense as well," he added.

Turning to NATO's work to fight terrorism, Stoltenberg recalled that the Nato Allies joined last month the global coalition to defeat Daesh.

"This not only sends a strong message of unity in the fight against terrorism; it also serves as a platform for practical cooperation.

"NATO is now fully integrated into the information-sharing and decision-making structures of the Coalition and we have already stepped up our support with more flight-time and information sharing by our AWACS surveillance aircraft," he said.

The NATO chief announced that a new intelligence division "is now up and running" at NATO Headquarters with "a new Hybrid Branch and a Terrorism Intelligence Cell," which he said would "help us better understand and counter the threat of terrorism and foreign fighters".

"And I am pleased to announce that I have just appointed Rose Gottemoeller, my Deputy Secretary General, to coordinate the Alliance’' efforts. Her appointment demonstrates that fighting terrorism is a top priority at the highest levels of NATO," he added.

Thursday's meeting will handle such topics as the fight against terrorism, burden sharing in defense expenses for Afghanistan and Iraq, cooperation with the EU and the security situation in the Baltic Sea region, the NATO head said.

Stoltenberg added the ministerial would close with a meeting on Afghanistan "where our Resolute Support Mission helps ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorism".

Anadolu Agency