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NATO Seeks to Head Off Budget Row Saying Spending is Rising

NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Nov. 29, 2019.
NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Nov. 29, 2019.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that European allies and Canada are spending even more than previously thought on defense, just days before U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to demand once more that other leaders boost their military budgets.

Trump meets with his NATO counterparts in London on Dec. 3-4. The previous two NATO summits were dominated by his allegations that other allies are not pulling their weight. While they do not owe the United States any money, Washington does spend more on defense than all its allies combined.

In what appears to be a pre-emptive political strike, Stoltenberg said that European allies and Canada are now projected to increase spending on their national military budgets by around $130 billion between 2016 and 2020. Previously, the figure was forecast to be "more than $100 billion."

"The trend is up. Year by year we are increasing, and year by year we are adding billions to our defense spending," Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels, where the 29-member trans-Atlantic military alliance has a new billion-dollar headquarters.

NATO countries agreed in 2014 to halt the defense spending cuts they introduced after the Cold War and boost their budgets in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to unilaterally annex the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine.

The aim was for each ally to be spending at least 2% of their GDP on defense by 2024. Stoltenberg said that Bulgaria has now joined a list of nine member countries that respect that target.

It's the third day in a row that NATO has announced some new budget or defense measure likely to please Trump. On Wednesday, Stoltenberg unveiled a new contract for an upgrade of the alliance's aging fleet of U.S.-made surveillance planes worth $1 billion.

Then on Thursday, he said that Washington will in future pay less into NATO's common budget for running its headquarters and other operations. That budget is worth about $2 billion. Germany and Washington will from next year each pay 16% — a 6% bonus for the U.S.

Germany, often a target of Trump's ire, is forecast to reach just 1.5% of GDP by 2024 but does intend to move to 2% by around 2031. Indeed, Berlin's hike in contributions to its national defense budget accounts for around 20% of the $130 billion increase trumpeted by Stoltenberg.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said he hopes NATO leaders can move beyond the seemingly endless spending debate next week and focus on important strategic interests, like who the alliance's adversaries are, how to cope with an unpredictable member like Turkey and improve ties with Russia.