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European NATO members to boost spending this year

By
Allen Cone
The guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely, seen in foreground, was a participant in the BALTOPS naval exercise of NATO allies in the Baltic Sea over 12 days in June. Photo by MCS2 Mark Anthony Hays/U.S. Navy
The guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely, seen in foreground, was a participant in the BALTOPS naval exercise of NATO allies in the Baltic Sea over 12 days in June. Photo by MCS2 Mark Anthony Hays/U.S. Navy

June 25 (UPI) -- The European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will increase defense spending for the fourth consecutive year amid calls by President Donald Trump for the allies to spend a greater share of their budgets on defense.

In a report released Tuesday on the 29-member alliance, NATO said the European countries would average 1.58 percent of gross domestic product this year on defense, which is an increase from 1.53 percent in 2018, 1.48 percent in 2017 and 1.46 percent in 2016.

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The expenditures are military spending -- not payments to NATO.

"This is a good trend and we expect this to continue," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters from his Brussels headquarters.

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In 2014, NATO members pledged to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024.

Seven nations will spend at least 2 percent on defense this year compared with three in 2014. European nations achieving this goals are Greece at 2.24 percent, Britain at 2.13 percent, Estonia at 2.13 percent, Romania at 2.04 percent, Latvia at 2.01 percent and Poland at 2.01 percent. The estimate for Lithuania is just shy of 2 percent, at 1.98 percent.

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Comparatively, the United States tops the list at 3.42 percent with an estimated of $752 billion in spending, while in 2014 it was 3.73 percent at $654 billion.

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The United States accounts for more than two-thirds of NATO's defense expenditure of $1 trillion.

Trump threatened to pull the United States out of NATO at the alliance's last summit in July 2018.

"For years, the United States was being treated very unfairly by NATO -- but now we have secured a $100 billion increase in defense spending from NATO allies," Trump said at the State of the Union address in February. "Under my administration, we will never apologize for advancing America's interests."

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Trump has taken aim at Germany, whom he referred to as a "captive of Russia."

"Germany pays 1% (slowly) of GDP towards NATO, while we pay 4% of a MUCH larger GDP. Does anybody believe that makes sense?" Trump tweeted last June. "We protect Europe (which is good) at great financial loss, and then get unfairly clobbered on Trade. Change is coming!"

Germany, which has Europe's biggest economy, will increase military spending to 1.36 percent of GDP this year -- $54 billion -- compared with 1.24 percent in 2018, according to NATO.

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Canada's percentage is 1.27 percent compared with 1.29 percent last year. And France boosted its percentage to 1.84 percent from 1.82 last year.

The alliance is scheduled to discuss transatlantic "burden sharing" at meetings Wednesday and Thursday, also in Brussels.

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