Defense spending by European NATO allies inches up in 2016
BRUSSELSDefense spending by European NATO states inched up in 2016 compared to the previous year, data by the military alliance showed on March 13, but still remained below a 2 percent target.
Turkey also raised its defense spending slightly from 2015 to 2016, but its spending fell in comparison to 2009, while also being below a spending target of 2 percent.
U.S. President Donald Trump called the alliance “obsolete” during his election campaign and then suggested he could make U.S. commitment to European NATO members security conditional on them meeting the alliance’s target of defense spending at 2 percent of their economic output.
Trump has since reaffirmed support for the security alliance but insisted Europeans must “pay their fair share.” His aides have said Trump wants to see progress on that by the end of this year and that Washington could otherwise “moderate” its support.
NATO said the U.S. defense spending last year stood at 3.61 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), compared to 3.58 percent in 2015. That compares to 1.47 percent for NATO’s European allies last year and 1.44 percent the year before.
NATO’s overall figure for 2016 stood at 2.43 percent versus 2.40 percent in 2015.
Turkey’s defense spending was 1.67 percent of its GDP in 2015, which increased to 1.69 in 2016, but this being below the 2009 figure when it’s spending was 2.06 percent, and that was above the two percent target. Since 2009, Turkey’s defense spending has declined in comparison to its GDP.
Europe’s low expenditures have long been a sore point for the United States, which provides the lion’s share of the alliance funds. In 2016, the U.S. economy represented just below a half of the alliance’s combined economic output, but nearly 70 percent of its defense expenditure, NATO’s annual report showed.
Europe has sought to reverse falling defense budgets since its neighbor Russia annexed the peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
The growing worry over the spread of Islamic militancy and more failing states on their borders gave NATO members last year the first annual growth in defense spending relative to the size of their economies since 2009. NATO officials said Europe was last at two percent in 2000.
The decision by Britain, a leading military power in the continent, to leave the European Union has also galvanized the Europeans to do more on defense on their own. Of 28 EU states, 22 are also members of NATO.
Only four European NATO members – Estonia, Greece, Poland and Britain – met the 2 percent target last year. Estonia’s Baltic peers Latvia and Lithuania, while below the threshold, billed the highest relative annual increase in 2016.
France came in at 1.79 percent, a tad below 2015, while Germany stood a 1.2 percent, just up from 1.18 in 2015.