Several United States Presidents have complained about NATO members not paying their fair share, but Trump has made the issue a priority.
NATO members in 2014 agreed to increase military spending to 2% of GDP by the year 2024. Only a fraction of NATO’s 28 members hit the target in 2017: the United States, Greece, United Kingdom, Romania, Poland, and Estonia.
“This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States,” said President Trump last spring during a speech to alliance members.
Reports show that military spending in Europe is growing, but that surging economies are making it harder for some countries to reach the 2% goal.
“European allies and Canada spent almost $46 billion more on defense” since 2014, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “We are moving in the right direction when it comes to burden-sharing and defense spending.”
Lithuania and Latvia have agreed to increase spending and are expected to hit the target by 2018. Spain, one of the lowest-spending countries in the alliance, announced in December plans to increase military spending by 80% over the next 7 years.
Germany, a frequent target of Trump’s criticism, continues to lag behind the target. Germany’s spending dropped in 2017, amounting to just 1.13% of a projected 1.22%. Germany’s federal industry association (the BDI) blames the drop on stronger-than-expected economic growth.
While German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) support plans to increase Germany’s military spending to hit the 2% target, the other half of her coalition government – the Social Democrats (SPD) – favor an increase in foreign aid spending instead.
A tentative spending proposal between the CDU and SPD puts military spending at about 1.15% for the next 4 years and does not mention the 2% NATO target.
The United States spends about 3.6% of its GDP on defense – more money than the next seven countries combined. The US plans to spend $582.7 billion on defense in FY2017, a figure that is larger than the entire national economic output of all but 20 countries on the planet.
In recent days, President Trump has hinted that NATO members could earn exemptions from his aluminum and steel tariffs by meeting the 2% goal. Stoltenberg refused to comment on that possibility, but made it clear that trade and defense are issues that should remain separate.
“There are some differences when it comes to trade but, at the same time, I am absolutely certain NATO will stand united around our core task of defending and protecting each other.”