NATO allies defend military spending amid Trump criticism

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO allies are pushing back against U.S. criticism that they are not spending enough on defense, as President Donald Trump ratchets up pressure ahead of a summit next week.

In the last few weeks before NATO's July 11-12 summit in Brussels, Trump sent letters to Norway, other European allies and Canada demanding that they boost defense spending.

After Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, NATO allies agreed that year to end defense budget cuts, start spending more as their economies grew and move toward a goal of 2 percent of GDP for defense spending within a decade.

In an email Tuesday to The Associated Press, Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said "Norway stands by its decision of the NATO Summit in 2014 and is following up on this."

Norway has spent "far beyond" NATO's target on new military equipment, he added.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday that "we stand by the 2 percent goal we've set." She added that "we're on the path there. And we're prepared ... to take substantial responsibility within the alliance."

When faced with the suggestion that such German explanations for not spending 2 percent of GDP yet might not make an impression on Trump, she retorted: "We don't want to impress anyone."

The upcoming NATO summit is the first major meeting since the fractious Group of Seven talks in Canada last month. NATO officials are concerned that trans-Atlantic divisions over trade tariffs and the U.S. pullout from the Paris global climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal could undermine alliance unity.

In the letter to Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, dated June 19, Trump wrote that despite her country's important role in the alliance Norway "remains the only NATO ally sharing a border with Russia that lacks a credible plan to spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense."

The stance was repeated in a similar letter to Belgium, where Trump said it will "become increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries continue to fail to meet our shared collective security commitments."

Trump dressed down his NATO counterparts last year, publicly berating them for not spending enough and claiming they owe the U.S. money.

The U.S. spends more on defense than all the others combined — 3.61 percent of GDP in 2016, or around $664 billion.