European Union countries and Canada have collectively boosted their defense spending every year since 2015, motivated first by Russia’s conflict with Ukraine and then by Trump’s threats to pull the United States from NATO if they did not ante up more cash.
“All NATO allies decided to invest more, and now we are delivering on that,” Stoltenberg said.
Leaders will meet in London starting Tuesday for a quick summit — which diplomats hope will not be derailed by further spending demands from Trump.
NATO leaders agreed in 2014 to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024, a goal that many of them have struggled to achieve. Bulgaria’s passing grade may be only temporary, since it is purchasing eight F-16 fighter jets this year, a major but one-time outlay that brought spending up to 3.25 percent of GDP, second only to the United States when measured in comparison to the size of the economy.
Before the decision to buy the jets, the country’s defense spending was estimated at 1.61 percent of GDP this year, solidly in the middle of the pack at NATO.
Apart from the United States, the other countries that meet the goals are Greece, Britain, Estonia, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. The United States spends 3.42 percent of its economic output on defense, a figure that put it far ahead of any other NATO ally — at least until Bulgaria bought the fighter jets.
In another, mostly symbolic effort to hand Trump a NATO spending victory, allies have also agreed to further limit the U.S. contribution to the central NATO budget — the bucket of money that pays for the electricity at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels as well as a handful of military headquarters around Europe.
The United States will now pay no more than the NATO member with the next-largest economy, Germany, capping its contribution at 16 percent into the $2.5 billion annual budget starting in 2021. The United States previously paid about 22 percent. The change saves Washington about $150 million a year, which will be made up for by the other NATO allies, apart from France, which thought the exercise was frivolous, according to diplomats familiar with the discussions.
But the meeting comes at a moment in which alliance divisions are on display more than ever, with French President Emmanuel Macron declaring NATO “brain dead.”
On Thursday, after a meeting with Stoltenberg, Macron said that he believed that terrorism needed to be a higher priority for the alliance than Russia, comments that unnerved eastern European countries that still fear a direct threat from the Kremlin.
“We should not be surprised that sometimes we disagree,” Stoltenberg said. “But the strength of NATO is that we always have been able to overcome our disagreements.”