FACT CHECK: Trump's Claims On NATO Spending President Trump bitterly criticizes many NATO member countries for not spending more on defense and says they owe the U.S. "massive amounts of money." The reality is more complicated.
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FACT CHECK: Trump's Claims On NATO Spending

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FACT CHECK: Trump's Claims On NATO Spending

FACT CHECK: Trump's Claims On NATO Spending

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Let's take the next few minutes to fact-check President Trump's claims about how much the U.S. and other member countries are contributing to NATO defense spending. Here's NPR national security correspondent David Welna.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Trump has said it before about NATO's European allies, and he said it again this morning in Brussels at breakfast.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money from many years back where they're delinquent, as far as I'm concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them. So if you go back 10 or 20 years, you just add it all up. It's massive amounts of money that's owed.

WELNA: In fact, the U.S. has not been stiffed for unpaid bills by NATO allies. Former Obama administration National Security Council official Aaron O'Connell says NATO is not like a club with annual membership fees.

AARON O'CONNELL: There is no ledger that maintains accounts of what countries pay and owe. There are no dues to NATO. It's not set up that way.

WELNA: NATO members did make a commitment four years ago to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense by 2024. Just nine of the military alliance's 29 members are expected to reach that mark this year. Trump this morning singled out Germany, the biggest economic power in NATO after the U.S.

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TRUMP: Germany is just paying a little bit over 1 percent, whereas the United States in actual numbers is paying 4.2 percent.

WELNA: Germany indeed devotes only about 1-and-a-quarter percent of its GDP to defense. While it has boosted defense spending the past two years, Germany, like about half the other NATO members, does not plan to reach 2 percent by 2024. Trump today told NATO member states they should be spending 4 percent of their GDP. But his own claim that the U.S. is spending 4.2 percent of GDP is at odds with the Pentagon, which puts it at 3.3 percent. American University NATO scholar Garret Martin says in any case, U.S. defense needs vastly surpass those of its European allies.

GARRET MARTIN: We're not comparing apples to apples. The United States is a global military power with global military commitments. NATO and the transatlantic geographical area is only a part of what the United States military does. That's not necessarily true for most of the European members of the alliance.

WELNA: Last week at a rally in Montana, Trump made another claim about NATO funding.

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TRUMP: We're paying for anywhere from 70 to 90 percent to protect Europe. And that's fine.

WELNA: But former NSC staffer O'Connell says that's hardly the case.

O'CONNELL: There is a common budget that all NATO allies pay into. It's about $2.8 billion. And the U.S. pays 22 percent of that, not 90 percent.

WELNA: But Trump today also sought to take credit for NATO allies spending more.

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TRUMP: This year, since our last meeting, commitments have been made for over $40 billion dollars - more money spent by other countries.

WELNA: Close - NATO reported yesterday that spending by European members has increased by $35 billion. American University's Martin says the higher spending continues a trend that predates Trump.

MARTIN: I think once the trend started changing in 2014, that created momentum even before he became president. Now, maybe there's a bit more urgency now because he's blunter than his predecessors in criticizing his European partners.

WELNA: And as NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg pointed out today, despite Trump's complaints about the U.S. spending too much, it's actually spending more than before.

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JENS STOLTENBERG: Actions speak louder than words because since Trump became president, U.S. funding for military presence in Europe, the European Deterrence Initiative, has been increased by 40 percent.

WELNA: That spending was approved by Congress, where the Senate last night and the House today overwhelmingly approved resolutions backing NATO. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

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