Fact Check: Long Before Trump Took Credit, NATO Spending Was Up

Image: Trump gives a speech on Krasinski Square in Warsaw
President Donald Trump gives a speech on Krasinski Square during the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Warsaw, Poland on July 6, 2017.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

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By Jane C. Timm

In a speech to the Polish people Thursday, President Donald Trump credited his leadership for eliciting "billions and billions of dollars more" in NATO spending from member countries.

“Americans know that a strong alliance of free, sovereign and independent nations is the best defense for our freedoms and for our interests. That is why my administration has demanded that all members of NATO finally meet their full and fair financial obligation,” he said in Warsaw. “As a result of this insistence, billions of dollars more have begun to pour into NATO. In fact, people are shocked. But billions and billions of dollars more are coming in from countries that, in my opinion, would not have been paying so quickly.”

Related: Donald Trump in Poland Takes on North Korea, Russia

Trump's not wrong to say that NATO spending is up. But there's no evidence to support the president's claim that he's responsible. According to NATO's 2017 estimates released last week, member nations have been committing steadily more to defense spending since 2014. Spending is up so far this year — but it was up last year, too, and the year before that.

How NATO works

NATO is an intergovernmental military alliance between 29 nations, which, crucially, have all vowed to consider an attack on one member nation an attack on all — as they did after the September 11 attacks. To ensure a hearty defense on the part of all nations, the treaty requests members spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense spending.

It’s a spending “guideline” not a “financial obligation,” but the president is correct that few nations meet the 2 percent guideline (just six are expected to this year, up from five last year). America spends the most, with 3.58 percent of its GDP, according to NATO’s 2017 estimates.

Billions more...since at least 2014

After years of defense expenditures declining globally, NATO members who were not meeting the spending guideline vowed to try and increase their defense spending at a 2014 summit in Wales. Members already committing 2 percent or more vowed to try and keep it up. At the time, the group credited new threats including Russian aggression and a destabilized Middle East as a reason to refocus efforts.

The White House did not respond to a request to substantiate the president's claim that “as a result of this insistence, billions of dollars more have begun to pour into NATO."

As for NATO’s specific coffers, just $1.54 billion goes to the NATO organization specifically, funding its headquarters and military force with a strict funding agreement approved by the group. For that, America, Germany, and France bear the biggest burdens, in that order.