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BBC 🔵 How much do Nato members spend on defence?

UK troops on Nato cold weather exercises in EstoniaEPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Nato expects 23 of its 32 members to achieve the target level of spending on defence this year.

The members of the military alliance pledged to spend at least 2% of the value of their economies – measured by GDP – on defence per year by 2024.

  • What is Nato and which countries are members?

Which countries spend most on defence?

According to Nato estimates for 2024, Poland will be the top spender for the second year running, allocating 4.1% of GDP (the total value of goods and services produced).

Estonia is in second place at 3.4% with the US in third place at 3.4%, which is about the same level as it has been spending for the last decade.

The UK comes ninth on the list with 2.3%. The government has committed to increasing that to 2.5% but has not said when this will happen.

The average for Nato members in Europe and Canada is estimated at 2.0%.

Map showing defence spending by Nato members in Europe. Poland and Estonia had the highest spending as a % of GDP among European members.

The US is a global superpower, with military commitments around the world, not just to Nato. It had GDP equal to all the rest of the members of Nato in 2024, and its spending on defence is two thirds of the Nato total.

Defence spending by European Nato members and Canada has increased over the last 10 years.

Which countries are increasing their defence budgets?

The current target for European Nato members of 2% of GDP on defence by 2024 was agreed in 2014.

In that year only three countries (the US, UK and Greece) were spending more than 2% on defence.

Chart showing defence spending by selected Nato members since 2014. The US has been the biggest spender overall. It has been overtaken by Poland as a proportion of GDP.

Nato members also pledged that by 2024 at least 20% of their defence expenditure should go on acquiring and developing military equipment.

Shashank Joshi, defence editor of The Economist told BBC News on 9 July 2024 that the reason for that target is so countries are « not just wasting it all on pensions or something that isn’t directly contributing to combat power ».

In 2024, all Nato members except Belgium and Canada are expected to achieve that.

USAF servicemen at air base

Getty Images

What about the cost of running Nato?

Nato’s annual budget and programmes come to about €3.8bn (ÂŁ3.2bn or $4.1bn) overall, and there’s an agreed cost-sharing formula to pay for the running of things such as:

  • civilian staff and administrative costs of Nato headquarters

  • joint operations, strategic commands, radar and early warning systems, training and liaison

  • defence communications systems, airfields, harbours and fuel supplies

The cost sharing is based on national income.

The three biggest contributors to this are the US and Germany at 16% and the UK at 11%.

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The US used to pay more than 22% of these running costs.

But a new payment formula was agreed in 2019 to address complaints by the Trump administration about the burden to the US of supporting the alliance.

What else does the US do for Nato?

The US has about 85,000 troops based throughout Europe. Some US personnel based in Europe support non-Nato operations and US military numbers fluctuate as forces are rotated in and out of Europe.

Germany currently hosts by far the largest number of US forces in Europe, followed by Italy and the UK.

However, the biggest single overseas deployment of US personnel is not in a Nato member state at all. It is in Japan, where the US maintains more than 50,000 troops.

Chart showing major US troop deployments. The top five countries are Japan, Germany, South Korea, Italy and the UK.

US forces also have a significant presence in the Middle East and the Gulf, although exact figures are not always disclosed and some deployments are only temporary.

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  • UK defence spending
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