Only 9 Out of 30 Allies Are Meeting NATO’s Defense Spending Goal

By Patrick Goodenough | June 30, 2022 | 4:16am EDT
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the leaders of the 30 allies pose for a group photo at the summit in Madrid on Wednesday.  (Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images)
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the leaders of the 30 allies pose for a group photo at the summit in Madrid on Wednesday. (Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images)

( – Two years short of the target date for every NATO ally to devote at least two percent of its national GDP to defense, only nine of the 30 are currently doing so.

But NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday the number would rise to 19 by 2024.

Briefing reporters at the NATO summit in Madrid, Stoltenberg also said that beyond those 19, an additional five allies “have concrete commitments to meet [the two percent benchmark] thereafter.”

He said the leaders meeting in the Spanish capital had “recommitted” to the pledge, and added that “two percent is increasingly seen as a floor, not as a ceiling.”

When NATO leaders first agreed to the two percent target, at a summit in Wales back in 2014, only three of the then 28 allies were spending two percent of GDP on defense – the United States, Britain, and Greece. Two years later, they were joined by Estonia and Poland.

Six years on, with membership now at 30, those initial five have been joined by Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia, for a total of nine, according to estimates released by NATO this week.

Those lagging furthest behind among the more prominent allies include Spain, the summit host (1.01 percent of GDP on defense), Belgium (1.18 percent), Turkey (1.22 percent), and Canada (1.27 percent).

(Turkey is the one ally not meeting the target whose defense spending as a percentage of GDP is actually lower in 2022 than it was in 2014 – at 1.22 percent, down from 1.45 percent eight years ago.)

France and Germany, NATO top European economies, are at 1.9 and 1.44 percent respectively. Days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany will “from now on – year after year – invest more than two percent of gross domestic product in our defense.”

(Graph: NATO)
(Graph: NATO)

In response to a question Wednesday about Canada’s spending, Stoltenberg replied, “Of course, I expect all allies to meet the guidelines that we have set and we agreed them back in 2014 for the decade up to 2024.”

He said that he understood it was always easier to invest in health, education, or infrastructure than in defense.

But if NATO allies reduced spending after the end of the Cold War due to easing tensions, he said, “we have to be able to increase defense spending when tensions are going up, and when we live in a more dangerous world.”

According to the NATO figures released in Madrid, overall defense spending by all NATO allies increased year-on-year most evidently during the administration of President Trump – who made the issue a priority in his sometimes testy relationships with European leaders.

Annual changes in overall defense spending of NATO allies were mostly in negative territory between 2013 and 2017 (with 2015-2016 the sole exception). Then they rose by 2.82 percent between 2017 and 2018, and by a significant 7.49 percent between 2018 and 2019.

Since then the increases have continued, but by steadily smaller amounts – up 2.00 percent in 2019-2020, up 1.89 percent in 2020-2021, and up 1.23 percent in 2021-2022. (The 2021 and 2022 figures are estimates.)

(Graph: NATO)
(Graph: NATO)

'Strong majority'

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan earlier touted the improvements in spending as a major achievement.

Briefing reporters en route to Madrid, he said, “we anticipate, at this summit, you will see that a strong majority of NATO allies will be either at the two percent Wales benchmark or on track to meet it by 2024, which is a – just over the course of the past 18 months – a substantial shift in the intensity and commitment of NATO allies in terms of putting their money where their mouth is.”

In a summit declaration released on Wednesday, the leaders welcomed “the considerable progress on Allied defense spending since 2014.”

“We reaffirm our commitment to the [2014] Defense Investment Pledge in its entirety,” they said. “We will build on that pledge and decide next year on subsequent commitments beyond 2024.”

NATO’s operating costs are covered largely through a “common funding” arrangement, with allies’ respective contributions based on gross national income.

Under the current cost-sharing formula, agreed at last year’s summit, the United States and Germany account for the largest contributions (16.34 percent each), followed by Britain (11.28 percent), France (10.49 percent), and Italy (8.78 percent).

At the other end of the scale, 13 allies pay less than one percent each. Most are former communist countries that joined NATO after the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact collapsed, and after the breakup of former Yugoslavia. The 13 are Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Slovakia and Slovenia.

See also:
NATO Summit to Begin; Trump Says Allies ‘Must Pay MORE,’ the US ‘Must Pay LESS’ (July 11, 2018)

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