WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Donald Trump addressed the US and foreign media Thursday following a contentious two days at the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium.
Trump answered questions on the United States’ commitments to the transatlantic alliance, his upcoming visit to the United Kingdom, and his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.
Trump seemed to change his tune about NATO over the past two days, saying that it is now a “fine-tuned machine,” claiming that he got members to agree to increase their defense spending.
However, the NATO communique reaffirms its 2014 commitment to a defense spending increase to 2% of their gross domestic product in 2024.
Trump’s biggest qualm with NATO has been that the United States is spending more on defense than other members, some of which aren’t yet meeting that commitment.
Trump claimed Thursday that the United States was spending 4.2% of its GDP on NATO.
“The United States, depending on the way you calculate it, was at 4.2%. We have the largest GDP by far especially since we increased it so much,” Trump said Thursday.
Trump is right in noting that the United States has the largest GDP of NATO members (and the world) — $19.39 trillion in 2017, according to the World Bank.
However, the United States is expected to spend an estimated 3.5% of the GDP on defense in 2018, according to numbers released by NATO on Tuesday. That is lower than last year’s estimate, which was at 3.57%. The last time the US spent as much as Trump cited was in 2012, when defense spending was a little more than 4.4% of the US GDP. The following year, the US spent about 4.08% on defense.
NATO sets an official target on how much members should spend — 2% of a country’s GDP — but there is no penalty for not meeting the 2% target, which they call a “guideline.”
Trump also said twice during his news conference that the United States is paying for “90% of the cost of NATO.”
All NATO members directly contribute to the organization’s budget in accordance with an agreed cost-sharing formula based on gross national income, and the US contributes about 22% to that.
For 2018, NATO has a civilian budget of about $286 million, a military budget of $1.54 billion, and a joint budget for the NATO Security Investment Program, which covers major construction and command and control system investments, which is capped at $817 million.
In addition, NATO estimated its 29 members collectively spent $917 billion on defense expenditures in 2017, with the United States representing about 67% of that total amount.
The President was asked about his visit to the United Kingdom, the next leg of his foreign trip, where mass protests have been organized in the cities.
Trump said he thinks the people of the UK “like me a lot” and he later made the comparison to protests on the night of the 2016 presidential election.
“But I think there were protests the night of the election both ways, but in the end, we had 306 electoral votes,” Trump said. He added, “That was the one state that Ronald Reagan didn’t win when he ran the board his second time — he didn’t win Wisconsin and we won Wisconsin.”
During the 1984 presidential election, President Ronald Reagan won Wisconsin against Democratic candidate Walter Mondale. That election, Reagan only lost in Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
In addition, the Electoral College results in 2016 were officially certified that December as 304 electoral votes for Trump to Hillary Clinton’s 227 because of “faithless” electors who cast their votes for other candidates. Earlier, when the votes were initially counted in November, Trump won 306 electoral votes compared to Clinton’s 232.