National Security

It Took A War For NATO Members To Actually Take Their Obligations Seriously With Biden At The Helm

(Photo by SUSAN WALSH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

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Jake Smith Contributor
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Despite President Joe Biden’s claims that he helped strengthen NATO, a transatlantic alliance critically reliant on the U.S., it wasn’t until a war broke out in Eastern Europe that alliance members started taking its defense spending commitments seriously.

Biden has boasted on numerous occasions that he made NATO more powerful than former President Donald Trump did, helping to expand the alliance and restore its reputation on the global stage. But NATO members were spending less on defense under Biden until the Russia-Ukraine war broke out, prompting the alliance to finally increase spending, according to official alliance documents. (RELATED: ‘Makes Me So Mad’: Biden World Furious That His Closest Advisors Set Him Up For ‘Disaster’ Debate)

Biden claimed during a debate against former President Donald Trump on Thursday that NATO was “strong” under his administration and bragged about how he got “50 other nations around the world to support Ukraine,” warning that Trump would pull out of the alliance if reelected.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

ATLANTA, GEORGIA – JUNE 27: U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump participate in the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios on June 27, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. President Biden and former President Trump are facing off in the first presidential debate of the 2024 campaign. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

His comments echo remarks made weeks and months earlier, in which he claimed his administration was responsible for NATO’s success.

“Trump wants to eviscerate NATO. He thinks NATO is useless,” Biden told Time in an interview in June. “NATO is considerably stronger than it was when I took office. I put it together. Not only did I reestablish the fact that it was the strongest alliance in the history of the world, I was able to expand it.”

“America is a founding member of NATO,” Biden said during his State of the Union address in March. “Today, we’ve made NATO stronger than ever.”

NATO members are currently spending more on defense than they have in the last decade. Members of NATO, including the U.K. Canada and the European Union (EU) nations, are obligated to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defense spending as part of their alliance agreement.

“I’ve worked really hard, spent hours and hours and hours doing this,” Biden said on NATO in a May interview with Howard Stern, who thanked him for working on making the alliance stronger. “And the idea that had we not gotten this done, I think you would’ve seen a beginning of disintegration of NATO.”

It is expected that 23 of the 32 members will hit the 2% minimum in 2024, up from 10 members the year prior, according to NATO defense expenditures.

The jump in spending comes alongside the surging Russia-Ukraine war, which has engulfed Eastern Europe and concerned members that Moscow could target them next. Prior to and during the immediate aftermath of the Russia war, fewer NATO members were meeting their spending targets under Biden than they were under Trump.

(Photo by CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump (C), next to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R), during a family photo as part of the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, northeast of London on December 4, 2019. (Photo by CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Only seven NATO members hit their spending goals in 2022, up from six in 2021, according to alliance defense expenditures. In 2020, Trump’s last full year in office, nine members were hitting their spending targets.

Trump routinely pressured members of NATO to meet their defense spending goals during his tenure, threatening to pull the U.S. out of the alliance if they didn’t. The number of NATO countries meeting their spending targets more than doubled from the start to the end of Trump’s presidency, before dropping in 2021 once Biden took office, according to expenditures.

“The only reason that he can play games with NATO is because I got them to put up hundreds of billions of dollars. I said, and he is right about this, I said, ‘No, I’m not going to support NATO if you don’t pay, I won’t do that,” Trump said during Thursday’s debate. “And you know what happened? Billions and billions of dollars came flowing in the next day and the next months. But now, we’re in the same position. We’re paying everybody’s bills.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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