FACT CHECK: Breaking Down Nikki Haley’s Claim About Ukraine Aid Spending

Christine Sellers | Fact Check Reporter

In a Sept. 10 interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union,” 2024 hopeful and former South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley claimed the U.S. has spent 3.5% of its defense budget and gross domestic product (GDP) toward Ukraine.

Ukraine’s military recently said it had retaken control of Klishchiivka, a settlement near Bakhmut, according to The New York Times. Klishchiivka had previously been occupied by Russian forces, the outlet reported.

Haley claimed 3.5% of the U.S. defense budget and GDP has been spent on Ukraine. Her comments followed a question from Tapper about House Republicans seeking to strip $24 billion in aid to Ukraine from the upcoming government spending bill.

“I think that you have to look at the fact that 3.5 percent has been spent from our defense budget towards Ukraine. That’s just 3.5 percent, that percentage of [gross domestic product or] GDP. Eleven European countries have spent more than us,” Haley said.

Haley referred to both GDP and the defense budget in her answer. According to a fact sheet on U.S. Security Assistance published by the Department of Defense (DOD) on Sept. 7, 2023, the U.S. has committed more than $44.4 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since President Joe Biden took office. This includes more than $43.7 billion since the beginning of the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia. The fact sheet also provides a breakdown of U.S. support to Ukraine in terms of air defense, small arms, and aircraft, among others.

Likewise, on Aug. 10, Biden asked Congress to approve $24 billion in aid to Ukraine, according to Reuters. The request was noted in an analysis piece published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who said it raised the total aid to $135 billion. (RELATED: Posts Claim Ukrainian Challenger 2 Tank Was Not Destroyed)

Prior to Biden’s request for more aid to Ukraine, the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s Ukraine Support Tracker indicated the U.S. had provided $69.484 billion in total commitments to the country. In comparison, European countries, including Sweden, France, the UK, and Poland, gave $2.356 billion, $1.693 billion, $13.767 billion, and $4.268 billion in total commitments to Ukraine, respectively.

The commitments are measured in percentage of GDP, with data captured from Jan. 24, 2022 to Jul. 31, 2023, according to the website.

Dr. Michael Desch, an American defense policy expert from the University of Notre Dame, questioned Haley’s claim in an email to Check Your Fact, saying that “Gov. Haley is not very clear in her quote. She refers to U.S. aid to Ukraine as both a percentage of our Defense budget and of our GDP.”

Desch pointed to The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which lists bilateral aid from the U.S. to Ukraine between January 2022 and May 2023 as $76.8 billion, with $46.6 billion or 61% in military aid alone. The CFR cites the data from the Ukraine Support Tracker in a graphic identifying the various forms of aid the country has received. Biden’s fiscal year 2022 defense budget was $752.9 billion for national defense, while the U.S. GDP for 2022 was $25,462.70 billion.

“Given that our 2022 defense budget was $753 billion and our GDP was $25,463 billion, that would make the percentages 10% and .3%,” Desch said.

Desch also said that comparing aid in terms of GDP  is “not a particularly meaningful comparison, in my opinion.” Desch said, “For example, the country with the highest percentage of GDP spent on aid to Ukraine is Latvia, with 1%.  But given that Latvia’s GDP in 2022 was $41.15 billion, that means that the total value of their aid was roughly $412 million, or .5 percent of what the U.S sent.”

July 2023 data from the Kiel Institute cited in a Sept. 21 BBC article reiterates that while the U.S. has spent more in aid to Ukraine than other countries, it is still less than the aid provided by the European Union (EU). A spokesperson for the Kiel Institute told Check Your Fact in an email that “total committed aid to Ukraine (not just military’) from the U.S. is about 0.3% of 2021 GDP.”

“It might be tricky to compare on a year by year basis, given that the appropriation procedures for allocating aid follow the U.S fiscal year for the budget and yearly GDP may be calculated in different ways, but any way one would want to count it, it would be very difficult to reach this 3.5% of GDP,” the spokesperson added.

Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ International Security Program, told Check Your Fact in an email that “[a]nswering the question is complicated because there are many ways to interpret the statement.”

“First there is a question about how one defines ‘aid to Ukraine.’ Only about half of the money appropriated for ‘Ukraine’ actually goes to Ukraine. The other half goes to elements of the US government, particularly DoD, and various humanitarian organizations outside of Ukraine,” Cancian said.

Cancian also said:

“Measured by percentage of GDP, the United States at .3% is behind most European countries, with 30 others ahead of the United States. Measured as a percentage of the defense budget, military aid to Ukraine (excluding humanitarian assistance, economic support, and money going to other US agencies) comes to about 3.5% of the defense budget over the two fiscal years of the war. This may be the 3.5% that Haley referred to. I don’t have comparisons to other countries. The number needs to be handle cautiously, however, because all the Ukraine aid was added to the budget and did not come out of DoD base budget.”

“Bottom line: measured by dollars, the United States is far ahead of other countries. Measured by level of effort, percentage of GDP, many countries exceed the US effort,” Cancian added.

A spokesperson from the Haley campaign defended the former governor’s claim in an email to Check Your Fact.

“Since the war began in Feb. 2022, the U.S. has spent roughly 3.5% of our total defense spending on military aid to Ukraine—that’s more than $43B in military aid,” the spokesperson said. “U.S. Defense Dept. spending since Feb. 2022, when Russia invaded = $1.2T (roughly pro-rated for the months since the invasion).”

The campaign linked to a Sept. 21 statement from the State Department and a Department of Defense (DOD) document referring to the agency’s requests for their fiscal year budget for 2024. The document shows that supplemental funding for the 2023 fiscal year regarding Ukraine was $35.7 billion out of $852 billion, slightly higher than 4%.

Check Your Fact also contacted the DOD, who pointed to the fact sheet detailing the U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine, declining further comment. In addition, Check Your Fact has contacted other U.S. defense spending and Ukraine experts and will update this piece accordingly if one is received.

Elias Atienza contributed to this report. 

Update 9/25/2023: After publication, a Haley spokesperson told Check Your Fact that we “misunderstood in the interview because these are two separate stats. One is that U.S. military aid to Ukraine is 3.5% of U.S. defense spending. The other is that 11 European countries have given more in aid to Ukraine as a % of GDP.”

Around 30 European countries spend more of a percentage of their GDP on aid to Ukraine than the U.S., according to Cancian and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.

Christine Sellers

Fact Check Reporter