America’s NATO Allies Are Stepping Up

Only three members spent 2% or more of GDP on defense in 2014. This year we expect eight will.

By Jens Stoltenberg

Brussels, the city I’ve called home since becoming secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2014, is only a couple hours’ drive from some of the 20th century’s bloodiest battlefields.

Many of them, such as Bastogne and Nijmegen Bridge, were the sites of outstanding acts of valor by American soldiers. Europeans will always be grateful for the sacrifices those men made to bring freedom back to our shores.

NATO was created in 1949 to ensure that none of us will ever have to live through another world war. The result of the alliance has been an unprecedented period of peace and security for the citizens of North America and Europe.

The U.S. has had close allies and friends in NATO that no other world power can match. Together, the alliance’s 29 countries represent half the world’s economic and military might.

But for all NATO has achieved, we cannot be complacent. Facing the most complex and dangerous security environment in a generation, we must invest more in our collective defense. In an unpredictable world, we must do what is necessary to keep our nations safe.

All NATO allies understand this. At our 2014 summit, each nation agreed to stop cutting defense budgets, increase expenditures, and move toward spending 2% of their respective gross domestic products on defense within a decade.

That pledge is being kept. After many years of decline, allies have ended the cuts and started to increase national defense spending. Last year NATO allies boosted their defense budgets by a combined 5.2%, the biggest increase, in real terms, in a quarter of a century. Now 2018 will be the fourth consecutive year of rising spending.

In 2014, only three allies—the United States, the United Kingdom and Greece—met the 2% target. This year, we expect that number to rise to eight, adding Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. Furthermore, a majority of allies have plans to meet their 2% commitments by 2024, while the rest are moving in the right direction. There is still a long way to go, but NATO members have turned the corner on defense spending.

President Trump has been outspoken on this issue, and I thanked him for his leadership when we met at the White House in May. The upswing in NATO defense spending over the past year and a half demonstrates that his efforts are making a difference.

NATO’s credibility as an alliance—in each other’s eyes, and in those of our potential adversaries—relies on sharing the defense burden fairly. Ahead of our summit on July 11-12 in Brussels, I have been carrying that message with me every time I meet with allied leaders.

Increased spending is only one part of the equation, however. Allies are also directing that money where it will matter. When NATO leaders signed on to the 2% guideline, they also pledged to put at least 20% of their defense budgets toward major new equipment, such as fighter planes, tanks and warships. Accordingly, NATO countries have added $18 billion in spending on equipment since 2014.

At the same time, NATO forces are doing more—in more places and in more ways—to strengthen our shared security. They’re training Afghanistan’s security forces how to bring stability to their country and create the conditions for peace and reconciliation. That’s why NATO has increased its troop numbers there to 16,000, up from 13,000 last year. Over the past decade, NATO countries have provided more than $2 billion for the Afghan army. At the coming summit, I expect allied leaders to extend their funding beyond 2020.

NATO has also been training Iraqis, and at the coming summit we will launch a new mission to build on those efforts. Hundreds of NATO soldiers will help to train Iraqi forces to secure their country and make sure Islamic State does not return.

From the Balkans to the North Atlantic, from the Black Sea to the Baltic, American and European soldiers, sailors and airmen are working together through NATO to keep our nations safe. They do so because we have common interests, history and values, and because the ties that bind us run deep.

That’s why NATO allies invoked Article 5, our mutual-defense clause, after 9/11—the first and only time we have done so. It’s why hundreds of thousands of European and Canadian troops have served shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans soldiers in Afghanistan. More than 1,000 of them have made the ultimate sacrifice.

It’s no secret that there are differences among NATO countries on serious issues such as trade, climate change and the Iran nuclear deal. But we have always managed to overcome our differences before. Two world wars and a Cold War have taught a simple yet powerful lesson: United, we are stronger and safer.

Mr. Stoltenberg is the secretary-general of NATO.