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The U.S. wants its allies to spend more on defense. Here’s how much they’re shelling out.

The United States has long urged its allies -- particularly European governments -- to spend a greater share of their budgets on defense. American officials have warned that defense cuts in recent years by many members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have created a two-tiered system in which some nations are freeloading off of those that continue to invest heavily in defense.

Several capitals have done little more than pay lip service to warnings from Washington, which continues to spend approximately 4 percent of its gross domestic product on defense. The United States has shouldered a higher share of NATO’s defense expenditures in recent years. According to NATO’s 2013 annual report, Washington was paying 73 percent of the alliance’s defense expenditures, up from 68 percent in 2007.

NATO leaders have demanded that members spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense, but several have struggled to meet that threshold. Currently, few European countries are meeting that benchmark. By way of comparison, Russia spends 4.5 of its GDP on defense.


Here’s a look at how European countries -- both in and out of NATO -- and how much of their GDP they spent on defense in 2012 and 2013, based on World Bank statistics. (NATO countries are marked with an asterisk.)

Georgia: 2.9 percent
Britain*: 2.3 percent
Greece*: 2.6 percent
France*: 2.3 percent
Poland*: 1.9 percent
Portugal*: 1.8 percent
Italy*: 1.7 percent
Bulgaria*: 1.5 percent
Finland: 1.5 percent
Denmark*: 1.4 percent
Norway*: 1.4 percent
Germany*: 1.3 percent
Sweden: 1.2 percent
Belgium*: 1.1 percent
Lithuania*: 1 percent
Spain*: 0.9 percent
Switzerland: 0.8 percent
Austria: 0.8 percent
Hungary*: 0.8 percent
Luxembourg*: 0.6 percent

The disparity in defense spending became clear when the U.S. and some allies took the lead in backing rebels seeking to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi in 2011. Then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the operation had revealed just how reliant the alliance remains on the hardware and coffers of just a few members.

“We need to use this moment to make the case for the need to invest in this alliance, to ensure it remains relevant to the security challenges of the future,” he said in a speech in Brussels in October 2011.

The issue has received renewed attention in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The World Bank also has a helpful map and table with spending data:

Data from World Bank

Data from World Bank



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Adam Taylor · March 26, 2014

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