Several other questions are being asked in this same realm, however I've yet to see any question or answer directly ask what is the current (FY2018) obligation for defense spending of NATO countries.

If there is no specific obligation, how can anyone calculate an deficiency or delinquency (viz: "Many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money from many years back, where they're delinquent...")

I think I understand that NATO countries agreed to meet a 2% threshold by 2024, but I'm not aware that there was a schedule to be maintained to arrive at the threshold.

Additional background Information: Two targets


3 Answers 3


There is no obligation for 2018. There is an obligation to meet 2% by 2024, and a guideline to meet 2% since 2006. They are not the same. There have been repeated efforts to intentionally misrepresent this by the Trump administration.

The guideline was agreed on in June 2006, and it explicitly stated that it doesn't represent a commitment to spend 2% GDP:

Finally, I should add that Allies through the comprehensive political guidance have committed to endeavour, to meet the 2% target of GDP devoted to defence spending. Let me be clear, this is not a hard commitment that they will do it. But it is a commitment to work towards it. And that will be a first within the Alliance. So there was, I think, quite substantial developments in the first two meetings. - Press Briefing by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai after the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Defence Ministers, 8 June 2006

The obligation of 2% stems from a declaration in September 2014, and includes an explicit goal to reach 2% "in a decade", but no provisions to punish those who don't:

  1. We agree to reverse the trend of declining defence budgets [...]

Allies currently meeting the NATO guideline to spend a minimum of 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defence will aim to continue to do so. [...]

Allies whose current proportion of GDP spent on defence is below [2%] will:

  • halt any decline in defence expenditure;

  • aim to increase defence expenditure in real terms as GDP grows;

  • aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade with a view to meeting their NATO Capability Targets and filling NATO's capability shortfalls.

Wales Summit Declaration, 5 Sep. 2014

As recently as August 2019 the NATO secretary only referred to the guideline and the obligation mentioned above, and mentioned no other obligations regarding defense spending and GDP:

And it was back in 2014 when we made the decision that we needed fairer burden sharing, that those Allies who are spending less than 2% of GDP on defence have to increase defence spending. The good news is that, after years of reducing defence budgets, all Allies have now started to increase defence spending. More Allies meet the 2% guideline and the majority of NATO Allies have put forward plans to reach the 2% goal within a decade, within 2024, which was what we decided. - Remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Lowy Institute, 07 Aug. 2019

A guideline is not a synonym of an obligation:

guideline [...] information intended to advise people on how something should be done or what something should be - Cambridge Dictionary: Guideline

obligation [...] something that you must do - Cambridge Dictionary: Obligation

Trump has repeatedly used this misrepresentation, despite being made aware of the error, so we must assume that it is an intentional misrepresentation, also known as a lie:

As a candidate and as president, Mr. Trump has said that NATO member countries have failed to pay their debts to the organization. His claim misrepresents how NATO functions and conflates several different measures of the alliance’s military spending. - New York Times, 7 Sept. 2018

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    So the short answer (to the title question) is there is no specific defense spending obligation for this year. Consequently member countries cannot be deemed delinquent or be in arrears. Claiming otherwise is what some famous person would call "fake news".
    – BobE
    Dec 4, 2019 at 22:04

Many statements by politicians are based not on the literal meaning of words but on a desire to frame the political discourse. So how can anyone say it? Step in front of a microphone and talk. Remember "I want my money back" by Margaret Thatcher? No real legal basis, either, but it became a political lever.

Who is the target audience of Trump's statement?

  • Domestic voters, who are supposed to perceive him as a strong leader safeguarding US interest.
  • Foreign leaders, who are supposed to fund larger armed forces which can then be used in conjunction with the US forces.
  • I'm looking for a dollar figure. I did not ask about the target audience of Trump statements. Either the obligation is real - therefore measurable - of it's fictitious.
    – BobE
    Dec 3, 2019 at 22:21
  • @BobE, your second paragraph asked exactly that. If you did not mean it, you should edit. What you might find is a self-imposed percentage of GDP. GDP for 2019 isn't calculated yet, let alone GDP for 2024.
    – o.m.
    Dec 3, 2019 at 22:25
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    @BobE, that FY comment is a very American statement. Other nations have other accounting periods.
    – o.m.
    Dec 4, 2019 at 5:56
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    @BobE, there is no basis for demanding payment in either case. There could be a basis for demanding more investment, which is an entirely different thing.
    – o.m.
    Dec 4, 2019 at 16:38
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    @BobE, that statement is a political bargaining ploy, not a reasonable legal position.
    – o.m.
    Dec 4, 2019 at 18:59

Note that even the 2024 target of 2% is not a binding contract in any way. I think the 2% of GDP has been a target for NATO for quite some time. The only difference in 2024 is that some politicians have stated that they will try to achieve that goal.

If in 2024 the military spending of say Germany is at the same 1.5% or so as it is now the consequences will be the same as now. The US president will criticize Germany and the German government will promise improvement in the future which may or may not actually happen. That's it.

  • The question is about the defence spending obligation for this year, not 2024.
    – F1Krazy
    Dec 4, 2019 at 10:45
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    @F1Krazy I know, but my point is there is no obligation in any binding way, neither now nor in 2024.
    – quarague
    Dec 4, 2019 at 10:47

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