Trumpnado touches down in UK after jolting Nato
US President Donald Trump makes his long-debated visit to Britain amid politics, pomp and protests, having rattled the Nato summit in Belgium.
Under fire for his warm embrace of Vladimir Putin, Trump turned a spotlight on Germany’s ties to Russia and questioned the value of the military alliance that has defined American foreign policy for decades.
He declared that a joint natural gas pipeline venture with Moscow has left Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Government “totally controlled” and “captive to Russia”. In a stroke, he shifted attention away from his own ties to the Kremlin just days before he meets one-on-one with Putin.
In London, he arrives at a time of rebellion in the Tories’ ranks, with Prime Minister Theresa May dealing with ministerial resignations over Brexit. Trump will attend a dinner with May, ministers and business leaders at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire this morning NZT. He will hold talks with May at the PM’s country residence, meet the Queen at Windsor Castle, and travel to a Trump golf course in Scotland.
Yesterday, the President used scorching language to question the necessity of the Nato alliance that formed a bulwark against Soviet aggression, tweeting: “What good is Nato if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?”
Merkel hit back immediately, not only denying Trump’s contention but suggesting that his comfortable upbringing in the US gave him no standing to spout off on the world stage about Germany. Drawing on her own background growing up in communist East Germany, she said: “I’ve experienced myself a part of Germany controlled by the Soviet Union, and I’m very happy today that we are united in freedom [in] Germany and can thus say that we can determine our own policies.”
Trump demanded through Twitter Nato members “pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025” for their military efforts. He then rattled US allies further by privately suggesting member nations spend 4 per cent of their GDP on the military — more than even the US pays, according to Nato statistics. It was just the latest in Trump’s demands and insults critics fear will undermine the alliance. And it came just days before Trump’s sit down with Putin in Finland.
However, a formal summit declaration issued by the Nato leaders reaffirmed their “unwavering commitment” to the 2 per cent pledge set in 2014 and made no reference to going higher. Trump has repeatedly mischaracterised the spending target, wrongly describing it as a fee countries pay to Nato or the US rather than their own military. Nato estimates that 15 members, or just over half, will meet the benchmark by 2024.
Trump’s tongue-lashing accelerated during a pre-summit breakfast, when he had a confrontation with Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “We’re supposed to protect you against Russia but they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that’s very inappropriate,” Trump said, repeatedly describing Germany as “captive to Russia”.
Trump’s harsh words for Merkel, whose country has hosted tens of thousands of US troops that have been key to post-World War II stability in Europe, struck at the core of the alliance. Hours after the breakfast, Merkel and Trump appeared to play nice. Trump said the two had a “very, very good relationship” and congratulated Merkel on her “tremendous success.”