NATO Members Say Focus On Military Spending Misplaced

In a tweet Thursday morning, Mr. Trump reiterated his new target.

But Germany, which has been in Mr. Trump’s crosshairs for spending only 1.24% of its gross domestic product on defense, said the sole focus on military spending is misplaced.

“I would like to see the businessman Donald Trump…not only look at the balance sheet, but also look at the output,” German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on the sidelines of the alliance gathering.

Germany, she said, is the second-largest troop contributor to NATO and the second-largest net payer into the alliance. Germany pays 14% of NATO’s annual budget, behind only the U.S., which finances 22%.

Germany’s position was echoed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after Canada at the summit agreed to lead a new NATO training mission in Iraq. “A lot of people talk about the 2%," Mr. Trudeau said Wednesday. “Announcing money put in, announcing inputs, isn’t nearly as important as demonstrating outputs.”

NATO members this year are poised to spend around $1 trillion on defense combined, dominated by $706 billion from the U.S. If all NATO members made their 2% commitment, alliance spending would rise by roughly $110 billion, a NATO official said. The amount is roughly equivalent to the combined French and British defense budgets. A spending level of 4% would boost overall NATO spending by roughly 50%.

Mr. Trump has said the imbalance is “unfair” to the U.S. During the summit, he tweeted “the U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billion on Trade.” He said European NATO members needed to reach the 2% spending target immediately, rather than by the agreed deadline of 2024. The U.S. now spends 3.5% of GDP on defense, according to NATO.

How much of the U.S. money actually benefits NATO is a matter of debate. NATO data includes all U.S. military spending but the outlays are spread far wider. The U.S. has large military forces in Japan and South Korea. Others are in the Middle East and Africa. Much of the U.S. Navy is oriented toward the Pacific Ocean.

More on NATO

“At least some political claims about the “burden” seem to grossly exaggerate the size and cost of the U.S. forces actually dedicated to European defense, and ignore the value to the U.S. of forward deployments and staging capabilities in Europe, along with the value of allied forces in supporting the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Anthony H. Cordesman, analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said in a recent report.

Calculating the U.S. contribution is difficult, because some military capabilities, such as the flotilla of aircraft carriers or the fleet of B-2 bombers based in the U.S., can support military operations globally.

Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, defense economics research fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, estimates the U.S. contributes about $36 billion directly to European security. European NATO members spend $286 billion, according to NATO data.

“America is spending its defense dollars principally for its own security needs, as well as to support a range of interests and allies in other regions around the world, not exclusively Europe,” Ms. Béraud-Sudreau said.

—Paul Vieira contributed to this article.

In comments at the NATO gathering Wednesday, President Trump criticized Germany, claiming it was "totally controlled by Russia" because of an energy deal the two countries made. Photo: AP

Write to Robert Wall at robert.wall@wsj.com

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NATO Members Say Focus On Military Spending Misplaced

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NATO Members Say Focus On Military Spending Misplaced

NATO Members Say Focus On Military Spending Misplaced

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NATO Members Say Focus On Military Spending Misplaced

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NATO Members Say Focus On Military Spending Misplaced