June 29 (UPI) -- Total defense expenditures by NATO members in Europe and Canada are projected to rise in 2017, according to a report released by NATO on Thursday.
The report indicates a boost of 4.3 percent in overall spending by non-U.S. NATO members, marking the sharpest rise in years.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Thursday that the new money represents "a significant increase," and that "European Allies and Canada spent almost $46 billion more on defense" since 2014.
"We are moving in the right direction when it comes to burden-sharing and defense spending," he added.
NATO defense spending is expected to total $915 billion in 2017 in constant 2010 prices and exchange rates, with the U.S. accounting for $616 billion of that total. The U.S. spends nearly twice as much on defense as the rest of NATO combined.
NATO membership guidelines set a target of each member to spend at least 2 percent of national GDP in defense. Out of 29 members, only six meet this level of expenditure, with Romania recently becoming the sixth. Out of the four largest economies in NATO, only the United States at 3.6 percent and Britain at 2.1 percent meet the target, though both nation's total defense spending has dropped since 2014. France and Germany spend 1.8 percent and 1.2 percent.
The disparity in both total spending and percentage of GDP has drawn criticism from officials in the last several U.S. presidential administrations, and it has been a focus of President Donald Trump. Trump has accused Europe of relying too heavily on the U.S., saying it must pay more for mutual defense.
At a news conference with the President of Romania this month, Trump praised Romania for its spending increases and added that "we hope our other NATO allies will follow Romania's lead on meeting their financial obligations and paying their fair share for the cost of defense."
"Other countries are starting to realize that it's time to pay up, and they're doing that. Very proud of that fact," Trump said.
NATO spending levels, particularly in Europe, has become more relevant in recent years in light of increased Russian military assertiveness and instability in the Middle East. NATO expenditures have been in a long decline since the end of the Cold War, with the exception of the U.S. surge in spending following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Even U.S. defense expenditures has been in decline since 2011, something both House and Senate Armed Services Committees and President Trump have pledged to change with higher defense budgets. Overall trends in NATO Europe spending since 2014 seem to pointing in the same direction.