NATO Salutes Europe's Defense Budget Rise Amid Trump Pressure

(Bloomberg) -- The head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization hailed its first annual review of members’ defense-spending plans amid persistent U.S. calls for European allies to foot more of the collective security bill.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the initial batch of national military-expenditure plans demanded by the U.S. shows progress toward a goal for alliance members to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense by 2024. That target will be met by eight NATO countries this year, up from three in 2014, and by at least 15 alliance members by 2024, according to Stoltenberg.

“All allies are committed to increase defense spending,” he told reporters on Wednesday in Brussels after a meeting of defense ministers from the 29-nation NATO. “The direction of travel is clear, but we have to continue to move in that direction.”

Heightened western tensions with Russia following its encroachment in Ukraine and worries about Islamic terrorism have helped reverse years of defense-spending declines by NATO members since the end of the Cold War.

The U.S., which accounts for around 70 percent of NATO members’ total military outlays, has long pressed European allies to boost their share. That campaign grew louder last year under President Donald Trump, who used a NATO summit in May to hector fellow leaders of the alliance to ramp up military spending.

NATO’s European nations and Canada -- the other North American member of the alliance -- posted three consecutive years of increases in combined defense expenditure through 2017. The rises were 1.8 percent in 2015, 3.1 percent in 2016 and 5 percent last year, according to NATO.

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