NATO allies defend military spending

US defence chief Jim Mattis (R) has written to his British counterpart demanding the UK spend more. (AAP)

Western European nations have hit back at Donald Trump criticism they are not spending enough on defence, saying they have recently increased spending.

NATO allies are pushing back against US criticism that they are not spending enough on defence as President Donald Trump ratchets up pressure ahead of a summit next week.

In the weeks leading up to NATO's July 11-12 summit in Brussels, Trump sent letters to the governments of Norway, other European allies and Canada demanding that they boost their defence spending.

After Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, NATO allies agreed to stop cutting defence budgets, to start spending more as their economies grew and to move toward a goal of devoting two per cent of GDP to defence within a decade.

In an email Tuesday to The Associated Press, Norwegian Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said "Norway stands by its decision of the NATO Summit in 2014 and is following up on this."

Norway has spent "far beyond" NATO's target on new military equipment, he added.

In Germany, "we stand by the two per cent goal we've set," Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday. "We're on the path there. And we're prepared ... to take substantial responsibility within the alliance," she added.

When faced with the suggestion that the German government's explanations might not impress Trump, von der Leyen retorted: "We don't want to impress anyone."

Germany is "investing as much as necessary, as appropriate and as is fair toward our common allies or partners in the alliance," she said.

The upcoming NATO summit is the first major meeting since the fractious Group of Seven talks in Canada last month. NATO officials are concerned that trans-Atlantic divisions over trade tariffs, as well as the US pullout from the Paris global climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, could undermine alliance unity.

Trump dressed down his NATO counterparts last year, publicly berating them for not spending enough and claiming they owe the US money. When he first came to office he even suggested that the US - by far NATO's most powerful ally - might not protect countries that don't pull their weight.

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