NATO edges towards Trump's spending demands, Germany lags

While seven NATO countries hit spending targets in 2018, German outlay lagged. NATO head Jens Stoltenberg was satisfied spending was moving in "the right direction," but will it be enough for US President Donald Trump?

European NATO allies increased defense expenditure in 2018, with big rises in the Baltics, Poland and the Netherlands, according to new figures.

But while Canadian spending fell, Germany's lagged and only six of NATOs 30 members, excluding the US, met the spending target demanded by President Donald Trump.

Germany's spending actually rose last year but remained stable relative to growing gross domestic product (GDP). Berlin has previously attracted the brunt of Trump's claims of freeloading by European NATO members.

Read more: Donald Trump wants allies to pay much more for hosted US troops

Politics | 12.03.2019

Europe nearing goals

With overall European spending up, hitting a five-year high of 1.51 percent of GDP, Britain, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland met the 2 percent goal, according to the NATO 2018 annual report.

Bulgaria, the Baltics and the Netherlands pumped in an extra 20 percent in 2018 compared to 2017.

After 20 years in NATO, Poland is a model member

Europe in general has been pushed into more military funding following the 2014 Russian annexation of Ukraine's Crimea, Islamist militancy and Trump's demands for sharing the cost of defending Europe.

Members have promised to try to hit the target by 2024 but slow progress has angered Trump, prompting him in August last year to threaten pulling out of the alliance if they didn't boost spending immediately.

European states have argued security is not just about spending targets. Added to that, despite welcome growth rates, rising GDPs have made meeting the relative figure difficult.

German spending stable

Europe's largest economy, Germany, invested an additional €1.5 billion ($1.7 billion) in defense last year, raising the figure to almost €42 billion ($47 billion) and keeping its rate as a percentage of GDP stable at 1.23 percent.

Related Subjects

That leaves Germany at the lower end of the spectrum, with the US at 3.39 percent, while Belgium and Spain remain below 1 percent of economic output. Spending in Canada fell by almost 11 percent last year.

'Right direction'

NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said the increase showed "we are moving in the right direction." He had previously argued NATO is undergoing a significant shift in spending as it seeks to deter Russia and undergoes its biggest modernization in decades.

From 2016 to 2020, NATO states excluding the US are expected to increase defense budgets by $100 billion.

ta/jm (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

Donald Trump on NATO: Top quotes

Trump on NATO: A war of words

Even before taking office, US President Donald Trump's relationship with NATO has been a tumultuous one, to say the least. He has disparaged the trans-Atlantic alliance, once describing it as "obsolete" and a relic of the Cold War. Here are Trump's most memorable quotes about the military alliance, even if they are at times false.

Donald Trump on NATO: Top quotes

'Days of the Soviet Union'

While on the campaign trail in 2016, Trump made clear that he saw NATO as a relic of the Cold War. "You know, we're dealing with NATO from the days of the Soviet Union, which no longer exists. We need to either transition into terror or we need something else." But his remarks didn't account for how the alliance backed the US well after the collapse of the Soviet Union, especially in Afghanistan.

Donald Trump on NATO: Top quotes

'Germany owes vast sums'

Trump has made defense spending his main talking point on NATO. But he has falsely accused member states of owing money to Washington, saying: "Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO, and the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany." The problem is NATO doesn't work like that. No money is owed to the alliance for defense or otherwise.

Donald Trump on NATO: Top quotes

'Obsolete'

Days before his inauguration, Trump caught NATO members off guard when he claimed the alliance was "obsolete" and threatened to withdraw support. "I said a long time ago that NATO had problems: Number one, it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago." Months later, he retracted his statement, citing changes within the alliance. "Now they fight terrorism," he said.

Donald Trump on NATO: Top quotes

'Doesn't sound very smart'

Trump had tended to lump trade between US allies with how much Washington spends on defense. "We are spending a fortune on military in order to lose $800 billion (in trade losses). That doesn't sound very smart to me," Trump said. The problem is that while NATO members have agreed to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, the alliance has nothing to do with international trade.

Donald Trump on NATO: Top quotes

'We are the schmucks'

During a 2018 rally in Montana, Trump hit out at European allies, saying: "They want (us) to protect against Russia, and yet they pay billions of dollars to Russia, and we're the schmucks paying for the whole thing." Trump was referring to Russia as Europe's primary source for oil and natural gas, but he created a false dichotomy between energy reliance and NATO's defense spending goal.

Donald Trump on NATO: Top quotes

Montenegro 'may get aggressive and congratulations, you're in World War III"

In an interview with Fox News, Trump was asked why the US should jump the defense of NATO ally Montenegro in the event of an attack. The president said he'd asked himself the same question, appearing undermine the military alliance's collective defense clause. Trump went on to describe Montenegrins as a "very strong" and "very aggressive," and that that aggression risked starting World War III.

Every evening, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

Related content