At a final press conference concluding this week’s Brussels summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg skirted several questions from journalists seeking clarification on a prior comment by President Donald Trump on members’ spending targets.
Trump asserted in a morning press briefing that some member states agreed to exceed the organization’s defense spending target of 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), after holding an emergency meeting to address the issue of spending and burden sharing.
“Some (members) are at 2 percent, others have agreed definitely to go beyond 2 percent,” Trump had said. He also sharply increased his demands in a tweet on Thursday morning, saying, “All NATO nations must meet their 2% commitment, and that must ultimately go to 4%!”
Trump’s comments were quickly rejected by French President Emmanuel Macron, who affirmed the group’s commitment to a 2 percent target.
"There is a communique that was published yesterday. It’s very detailed.” Macron said, according to AP. “It confirms the goal of 2 percent by 2024. That’s all.”
Asked for clarification on the competing claims, Stoltenberg said, “We have made many decisions, this is about making sure we deliver on our commitments and making sure we add more billions to our defense budgets.”
He also described the member states as having agreed to “committing more” and that with a “new sense of urgency, all allies agreed to redouble their efforts, new money is coming in, more than $40 billion.”
Asked by another reporter for a more detailed response to Trump’s assertion, “We’ve clearly stated this year we need credible national plans, we need all allies to follow up on national plans ... to make sure we deliver and increase defense spending substantially.”
The replies failed to specifically address the American president’s claims or the apparent divergence between those and the NATO group communique referenced by Macron, focusing instead on the need for fairer burden sharing and greater spending generally.
NATO members formally committed to the 2 percent target in 2014. Only five of the transatlantic alliance’s 29 members currently meet that target — the U.S., the U.K., Estonia, Greece, and Poland. Trump has long railed against European partners for failing to adequately boost their defense spending, accusing them of freeriding on Washington’s military capabilities for protection from Russia and other threats.
This year’s summit kicked off with simmering tensions as Trump berated ally Germany for its defense spending, which Berlin pledged to increase to 1.5 percent of its GDP by 2025, up from a low of 1.1 percent in 2015. In 2014, all NATO states pledged to bring their spending up to 2 percent within a decade — but the organization’s estimates find that just around half will be able to do so by that time, based on current trends.