Photographer: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

NATO Members’ Defense-Budget Boost in 2016 Masks Differences

  • Alliance report shows first overall spending boost since 2009
  • Only four European members meet 2-percent-of-GDP target

NATO members’ overall increase in defense spending last year masks sizable differences among individual countries, highlighting the risk of persistent tensions as U.S. President Donald Trump presses Europe to foot more of the common security bill.

Total defense expenditure by North Atlantic Treaty Organization members grew to 2.43 percent of their gross domestic product in 2016 from 2.40 percent the previous year, marking the first increase since 2009, the alliance said in an annual report released on Monday in Brussels.

The U.S. led with defense expenditure of 3.61 of GDP last year, while European nations spent an average 1.47 percent on such outlays, according to the report. In Europe, only Estonia, Greece, Poland and the U.K. met a NATO target for members to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense.

Germany increased defense outlays to 1.20 percent of GDP last year from 1.18 percent, while Spain fell to 0.90 percent from 0.93 percent and France slid to 1.79 percent from 1.80 percent. Canada, the second North American member of NATO, had defense spending of 1.02 percent last year compared with 0.98 percent in 2015.

With the U.S. accounting for about 70 percent of NATO’s overall defense expenditure, Defense Secretary James Mattis warned in mid-February that Washington would “moderate” its support for the 28-nation alliance unless other members contribute more. The demand follows the emergence of security threats including Russian meddling in eastern Europe, Islamic terrorism and cyber attacks.

“At no time since the end of the Cold War has the NATO alliance faced greater challenges to our security than it does today,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in the report. “But NATO is the most successful alliance in history because it has been able to change as the world has changed.”

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