World leaders are descending on Brussels for the first in-person NATO summit since the start of the pandemic. Plenty of topics will be on the agenda in the Belgian capital where the focus is firmly set to be on President Biden. His most important task will be to reassure NATO allies after his predecessor lambasted several members for not paying their fair share on defense, even going as far as threatening to pull the United States out of the alliance. Biden is also set for serious discussions with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. Both leaders will attempt to repair a growing rift as a result of the White House recognizing the Armenian genocide as well as due to Washington kicking Turkey out of the F-35 program in the wake of Ankara's decision to purchase Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles.
Back in 2018, Trump criticized a number of NATO member states for not meeting the 2 percent of GDP spending threshold agreed upon at the 2014 summit in Wales. Trump focused much of his criticism on Germany and he ordered 12,000 U.S. troops to be withdrawn from the country, a decision Biden later reversed. Nevertheless, his threats, coupled with increased military spending in both Russia and China, have seen a number of states up their defense spending to meet or exceed that 2 percent threshold. 10 NATO members are now at that level, according to alliance data released last week, and the list encompasses the U.S., the UK, Greece, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, Romania and France.
Germany has also boosted its spending. Berlin spent 1.2 percent of its GDP on defense in 2018 and it is now on track to spend 1.5 percent, or $65 billion, in 2021, the third-highest overall spending figure across the alliance. The U.S. still has the highest overall spending levels of any NATO country with an estimated $811 billion outlay on the cards for 2021 or 3.5 percent of GDP. The UK is set to spend an estimated $73 billion in 2021, or 2.29 percent of its GDP, placing it second. At the opposite end of the table, the small European country of Luxembourg has the lowest spending levels as a share of GDP in NATO at 0.57 percent or $474 million.