NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the media at alliance headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, one day before the two-day NATO Defense Ministers Council. Photo by Olivier Hoslet/EPA
Feb. 13 (UPI) -- More than half of NATO members will reach a goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense by 2025, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday in Brussels.
Stoltenberg said 15 of the 29 NATO allies are projected to pay their goal as determined at NATO's 2014 summit in Wales and urged last year by President Donald Trump. All members have increased their spending, he said.
Stoltenberg told reporters defense ministers aren examining NATO's Command Structure, cooperation with the European Union and the NATO's role in projecting stability and fighting terrorism.
"Fair burden-sharing is also crucial for our shared security," Stoltenberg said. "After years of decline, since 2014 we have seen three years of increasing defense spending across European allies and Canada."
In 2014, the United States, Greece and Britain were the only three allies spending 2 percent or more on defense.
"This year, we expect eight allies to meet the target," Stoltenberg said. "And by 2024, we expect at least 15 allies will spend 2 percent of GDP or more on defense. This is substantial progress and a good start."
The additional countries since 2014 are Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Romania and Lithuania.
The allies also agreed to invest more in major capabilities. "The European allies and Canada invested $19 billion more on major equipment over the last three years," the secretary general said. "By 2024, 22 allies are expected to invest 20 percent or more of their defense budgets on major capabilities, which is NATO's guideline. This should lead to significant improvements to our forces and their readiness."
"Clearly NATO has reversed what was a downward trend, and so now we're well into the second year I believe, where the nations are spending more on defense," U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Sunday traveling with him to Europe. "That's not to say that everyone's where they need to be or has plans for where they're going, and we'll discuss that. We're all sovereign nations, and these are sovereign decisions. So we've got to discuss it, so that's everyone carrying their share."
The United States, which has the largest GDP of all member states, accounts for three-quarters of all NATO defense spending. The U.S. level was 3.61 percent of GDP, followed by Greece at 2.38 percent, Britain at 2.21 percent, Estonia at 2.16 percent and Poland at 2 percent in 2017.
Canada's spending was at 1.2 percent in 2017 but defense minister Harjit Sajjan said last year his nation plans to boost spending by 73 percent to $24.2 billion in 2026.
Trump has been adamant all nations pay their fair share.
"Members of the alliance must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations," Trump said while visiting NATO headquarters in Brussels last May. "This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States."
He said that "2 percent is the bare minimum for confronting today's very real and very vicious threats. If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today."