North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members, facing new and old menaces from Russian aggression, global terrorism and cyber attacks, are stepping up to these challenges by strengthening their defenses.

Defense spending, after years of decline, has rebounded since 2014. Six of the 29 nations — the United States, the United Kingdom, Greece, Estonia, Romania and Poland — already devote at least 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to defense. Several more are closing in on that target.

NATO members embraced the 2-percent-of-GDP goal at a 2014 summit in Wales, then agreed in May to move more quickly toward that minimum level. President Trump has urged NATO allies to shoulder more of the burden of keeping peace in Europe and the North Atlantic.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who traveled to Europe in early December to speak with NATO allies, said November 28, “Our expenditures are in some ways a reflection of how much we seek to protect peace and freedom.”

He praised Albania, Croatia, France and Hungary for joining the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Slovakia and Turkey in making progress in 2017 toward the 2 percent benchmark. “These nations know they must invest in security to preserve liberty,” Tillerson said at the Wilson Center, a think tank named for President Woodrow Wilson who a century ago led the United States into World War I to defend Europe’s democracies.

Map of Europe showing defense-spending levels (State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)
(State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)

The United States spends $683 billion, or 3.6 percent of GDP, defending itself and its allies. That’s almost 2.5 times more than NATO’s 28 other members, who spend less than 1.5 percent GDP on average.

NATO members are also committed to earmarking 20 percent of their defense budgets for purchasing new weaponry and equipment as part of the Wales Pledge. Thirteen allies already meet that 20 percent target and others are close.

Several NATO members above or approaching the threshold endured Soviet Union domination for decades after World War II, either as Soviet republics (the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) or in the Warsaw Pact (Poland, Romania, Albania and Hungary).

Front of ship in water (© Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty)
A sailor inspects a Romanian frigate’s cannon during a 2015 NATO drill in the Black Sea. (© Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty)

The United States pays 22 percent of NATO’s budget; Germany, 15 percent; France, 11 percent; the United Kingdom, 10 percent; and Italy, 8 percent.

Norway spends more per capita on defense — $1,421 — than any ally except the United States ($1,887).

NATO was founded in 1949 by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. Greece and Turkey joined the democratic alliance in 1952, Germany in 1955 and Spain in 1982.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined in 1999; Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004; Albania and Croatia in 2009 and Montenegro this year.