Fact check: Have NATO allies increased defense spending by $34 billion?

DCNFDavid Sivak, DCNF

President Donald Trump said Friday that members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), excluding the U.S., have increased defense spending by at least $34 billion.

Verdict: True

NATO estimates that European members and Canada will spend an additional $34.6 billion on defense in 2018.

Fact Check:

Trump embarked on a seven-day tour of Europe Tuesday. He spent several days in Brussels to attend the annual summit of NATO, the second of his presidency. Trump met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, as well as leaders from the 29-member military alliance.

News reports described tense meetings in which the president threatened NATO members with “grave consequences” unless they agreed to substantially increase defense spending.

Trump pushed back on criticism that his actions were detrimental to the alliance during a visit to the U.K.

“We have left NATO with more money, with more unity, with more spirit than NATO probably has ever had,” he said Friday in a press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May. “We have a strong and powerful NATO. When I became president, we didn’t.”

As proof, he claimed that member nations had committed to higher defense spending.

“I think that the Secretary-General – Stoltenberg is doing a terrific job, by the way – he said yesterday that because of President Trump, we’ve taken in $34 billion more for NATO,” Trump said. “And I think the number is actually much higher than that. But $34 billion more, at least.”

The day before, Stoltenberg said in remarks that NATO members, not including the U.S., had increased defense spending by $41 billion since Trump became president. “And all allies have committed to raise this number substantially. So we are stepping up as never before,” he said.

The $34 billion figure comes from a newly released report by NATO. European allies and Canada are projected to spend $307.3 billion on defense in 2018, up from $272.8 billion in 2017.

These numbers are in current dollars, meaning they don’t account for the effects of inflation. At constant 2010 dollars and exchange rates, the 28 countries are anticipated to increase defense spending by $11.4 billion.

Trump claims that NATO members have performed an about-face when it comes to their military budgets. “You know, it was going down. You see what was happening over the years. The numbers were going down,” he said. “Now the number is way up and now it’s going way up higher.”

It’s worth noting, however, that this will be the fourth consecutive year that NATO spending increases (in constant dollars).

After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the alliance agreed to halt defense cuts and formally codified a target for defense spending – 2 percent of each country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Here’s how military expenditures by European allies and Canada have changed in recent years, in both current and constant dollars and exchange rates.

Only the U.K. and Greece met the 2 percent target in 2014. By the end of this year, four additional countries – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland – are expected to hit or exceed the goal. Other countries like France have committed to reaching 2 percent by 2024.

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