Trump calls for NATO to help pay for IS fight
BRUSSELS — Meeting fellow NATO leaders for the first time, President Donald Trump aggressively challenged them Thursday to spend more on their own defence, putting the alliance under exceptional pressure to become tougher, sharper and newly relevant.
The 27 other leaders looked on in awkward silence as Trump suggested most NATO countries were freeloaders not paying their share for military protection. The other leaders are divided over his spending demands, as well as over how much intelligence to share with Trump’s troubled administration.
“Twenty-three of the 28 nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for their defence,” Trump said. “This is not fair to the people and the taxpayers of the United States.”
But the threat of Islamic extremism remained a uniting theme as the spectre of Monday’s Manchester concert bombing loomed over the summit at the alliance’s new headquarters in Brussels.
“That attack shows why it’s important for the international community and NATO to do more about the fight against terrorism,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said upon arrival.
NATO’s chief affirmed that the alliance would join the international coalition fighting the Islamic State group, but will not wage direct war against the extremists.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that joining the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition “will send a strong political message of NATO’s commitment to the fight against terrorism and also improve our co-ordination within the coalition.”
But he underlined that “it does not mean that NATO will engage in combat operations.” All 28 NATO allies are individual members of the 68-nation anti-IS coalition.
Yet NATO leaders are keen to show that the alliance born in the Cold War is responding to today’s security threats. Trump has questioned its relevance and pushed members to do more to defend themselves.
As part of its efforts to respond to Trump’s demand to do more to fight terrorism, NATO will also set up a counterterrorism intelligence cell to improve information-sharing.
The leaders also endorsed the appointment of an anti-terror co-ordinator to oversee their efforts, and decided to increase the number of flight hours of a surveillance plane watching the skies over northern Iraq and Syria.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that NATO leaders would confirm a decision from 2014 increasing the amount member countries are expected to spend on defence to two per cent of their gross domestic product by 2024.
Merkel told reporters she is pleased that NATO spending plans will also take into account military equipment and contributions to alliance operations.
But in remarks that humiliated other leaders, Trump said that “NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations.” He added, “Many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years.”
Meanwhile, a growing dispute between the U.S. and Britain over intelligence-sharing clouded the NATO meetings, after leaked photos from the Manchester bomb scene appeared in The New York Times.
The U.S.-British defence and security partnership “is built on trust. And part of that trust is knowing that intelligence can be shared confidently.”
Stoltenberg, Justin Trudeau and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also stressed the importance of being able to trust allies in fighting extremism.