France to reach NATO spending target in 2020, but most allies fall short

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - France, one of Europe’s biggest military powers, will reach a NATO spending goal of 2% sought by the United States this year, the alliance said on Wednesday, but most member states still lag behind in a continual sore point for Washington.

FILE PHOTO: Then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) meets NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 7, 2015. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle/File Photo

France is estimated to spend 2.1% of its economic output on defence in 2020, NATO said in a report, attaining the goal set by NATO leaders at a 2014 summit after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said 2020 would be the sixth consecutive year of increased defence spending by European allies and Canada, up by 4.3% in real terms.

“We expect this trend to continue,” he told reporters.

While France was joined by Norway for the first time in reaching 2%, despite the coronavirus crisis that has sapped economies, only 10 of the 30 allies will hit the target this year, including the United States, the NATO report said.

Italy, Spain and Belgium are among the lowest spenders.

The issue of defence spending is likely to remain an issue for the United States whoever wins the presidential election on Nov. 3, diplomats, officials and experts say.

European reluctance to spend more on defence, despite several countries hosting U.S. troops in Europe, has been a major grievance of President Donald Trump, who has openly questioned NATO’s continued value to Washington.

That has eroded faith in a pillar of post-war European security - that U.S. forces would defend alliance members against any Russian aggression. European allies hope a victory for Democratic candidate Joe Biden, a former vice president and strong supporter of Washington’s traditional alliances, in the Nov. 3 election would restore confidence.

Only the United States, Britain, Greece, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, France, Norway and Romania will spend 2% or more in 2020, although Turkey, Bulgaria and Croatia are close.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has pledged to reach the NATO defence spending target by 2031.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Mark Heinrich