Over 20 NATO allies to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense in 2024, says Stoltenberg

FILE PHOTO: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to media at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels

By Jonathan Landay, Daphne Psaledakis and Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -More than 20 NATO members will meet the alliance's target of allocating at least 2% of GDP to defense this year, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday, highlighting how allies have raised military spending since Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Stoltenberg told U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House that the number of NATO allies now meeting that spending target compares to less than 10 members five years ago.

"Across Europe and Canada, NATO allies are this year increasing defense spending by 18%, that's the biggest increase in decades, and 23 allies are going to spend 2% of GDP or more on defense this year," he said.

Speaking earlier at the Wilson Center think tank, Stoltenberg said the increase in defense spending by the allies "is good for Europe and good for America, especially since much of this extra money is spent here in the United States."

Stoltenberg was in Washington for preparations for next month's NATO summit in the U.S. capital, a topic that he and Biden discussed as well.

Biden said the alliance is facing one of the most consequential moments for Europe since World War Two as Ukraine battles Russian forces.

"We've strengthened NATO's eastern flank making it clear that we'll defend every single inch of NATO territory," said Biden.

Stoltenberg said that when NATO leaders set the 2% of GDP target at their summit in 2014, only three members - the United States, Greece and Britain - met that target.

At that time, there were 28 members. NATO now has 32 members.

Meeting with reporters after his appearance, Stoltenberg said the trend in increased military spending by NATO members was triggered by Russia's seizure of Crimea in 2014.

NATO defense spending has become highly contentious in recent years, particularly as former U.S. President Donald Trump has accused Europeans of spending too little on their own security and relying on the United States for protection.

Earlier this year, Trump - the presumptive Republican candidate in this year's U.S. presidential election - sparked outrage by suggesting he would not protect NATO members that failed to spend enough on defense and would even encourage Russia to attack them.

Defense spending by many European nations has risen sharply since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and NATO officials have been keen to stress that its European members are now stepping up to the plate.

NATO defense spending will be a major topic at next month's alliance summit in Washington, Stoltenberg said, followed by Russia's war against Ukraine.

He warned that the delay in the provision of U.S. military aid to Ukraine that occurred earlier this year cannot be allowed to happen again.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay, Daphne Psaledakis, Trevor Hunnicutt and Kanishka Singh; Editing by Susan Fenton and Deepa Babington)