Thank Putin, Not Trump, For NATO’s New Defense Spending Boost

One president is pushing NATO to get its act together on defense spending. But that president sits in Moscow, not Washington.

On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced non-U.S. NATO members will boost their defense spending by 4.3 percent this year as it seeks to counter Russian aggression and confront terrorist threats from the Middle East.

“To keep our nations safe, we need to keep working to increase defense spending and fairer burden-sharing across our alliance,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Wednesday. “We have really shifted gears. The trend is up, and we intend to keep it up.”

Stoltenberg announced non-U.S. NATO members will collectively increase spending on defense by 4.3 percent in 2017 — a $12 billion boost from 2016 levels. He said the money would be funneled into new military exercises and equipment to help NATO troops deploy quickly in case of emergency. Portions of the new funds would also go to troops’ salaries and pensions.

Burden sharing has long been a sore spot in U.S.-NATO relations. Washington, by far NATO’s largest defense spender, has pushed allies to pay their fair share for years. But Trump upped the ante by railing against allies for “owing” the United States backpay on spending gaps (though according to former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, that’s not how NATO defense spending works) and even hinting Washington wouldn’t come to the aid of allies who don’t spend enough on defense — moves that inflamed tensions with European capitals.

Currently, only five of NATO’s 29 allies meet the alliance’s commitment to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense — the United States, United Kingdom, Poland, Estonia, and Greece. Romania is expected to reach the threshold this year, with Latvia and Lithuania following next year.

Trump has also taken credit for NATO’s defense spending boost, but top NATO and European officials insist the wake-up call came from Russian…

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