A trio of NATO defense ministers whose countries share a border with Russia urged their NATO counterparts to live up to their defense spending commitments.

Countries in NATO are supposed to be committed to spending at least 2% of their GDP on defense to fund the organization. But not all member nations are meeting the target, they said. This lack of burden sharing placed NATO on the ballot of the upcoming U.S. presidential election as former President Donald Trump has stated he may reduce the U.S.’ involvement in NATO if European countries don’t step up their game.

Lithuania’s Minister of National Defense Laurynas Kasčiūnas, Latvia’s Minister of Defense Andris Sprūds and Estonia’s Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur attended the roundtable discussion July 9, moderated by POLITICO’s Global Editor-in-Chief John Harris and Welt TV’s Editor-in-Chief Jan Philipp Burgard, on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Washington.

Kasčiūnas said the upcoming U.S. presidential election is of importance to Europeans because to feel safe and secure in Europe, they need a U.S. presence. He said the country must be prepared to work with whoever is elected and whichever political party is in power.

“So it’s a dogma, I would say, for Baltic states, we know our geopolitical history, we know who played a key role in our independence,” Kasčiūnas said. “So, it’s a crucial one, and we hear debates. But I think we should be prepared to work with America.”

Sprūds said he believes Trump was right in advocating for fair burden sharing among NATO countries and in raising the 2% of GDP defense requirement.

Nineteen of 31 NATO countries failed to meet the requirement in 2023, including France at 1.9% and Canada at 1.38%. NATO now has 32 members with the addition of Sweden in 2024. NATO member Iceland has no armed forces and is omitted from the defense spending goal.

NATO countries are aware they do not meet the requirement, but are striving to improve their spending. Compared to 2014, when only three countries met the 2% target, 18 countries are predicted to spend at least 2% in 2024.

Some NATO countries are even breaking personal records. Germany spent 1.57% last year, but now are spending more than they ever have on defense since the 1990s, announcing in February they were able to meet the 2% mark.

“That is urgently needed,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in February after Trump remarked the U.S. would not protect countries who don’t meet the spending requirement. “Because as harsh as this reality is, we do not live in times of peace.”

Pevkur said NATO countries are aware that the 2% defense requirement is not enough because of shortages in defense capabilities, but production capabilities must rise alongside the increase in defense investment.

Estonia is spending 3.4% this year of their GDP on defense, making the country the second-highest spender in NATO.

“We pay more by share of our economy,” Pevkur said. “We are paying more than U.S. is paying at the moment.”

The U.S. is paying 3.38% on defense, according to Pevkur, making the U.S. the third-largest contributor to NATO this year with respect to their GDP.

Tensions have always been high between Russia and its neighboring Baltic states, where Russia often blames them for the severed relationship.

The defense ministers said the Russian expansionist mindset is nothing new and may continue even when Vladimir Putin is no longer Russia’s president, as their countries have delt with Russian attacks for years against cyber or critical infrastructure.

“This is exactly what Russia wants to have, that all the European countries will deal with internal problems and not with Ukraine,” Pevkur said. “In reality, we see that hundreds of people are dying in Ukraine, and this should be our main focus.”

Kasčiūnas said countries should have credible defense and deterrence measures in place to discourage Russia from attacking them.

Cristina Stassis is an editorial fellow for Defense News and Military Times, where she covers stories surrounding the defense industry, national security, military/veteran affairs and more. She is currently studying journalism and mass communication and international affairs at the George Washington University.

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