Trump hounds NATO al­lies over ‘delin­quent’ de­fense spend­ing

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Gre­gory Korte USA TO­DAY

BRUS­SELS — Pres­i­dent Donald Trump ar­rived Tues­day at the home of NATO head­quar­ters with a seem­ingly sin­gu­lar pre­oc­cu­pa­tion: al­lies who aren’t shar­ing in the bur­den of pro­vid­ing for the col­lec­tive de­fense.

His ral­ly­ing cry: “2 per­cent.” That’s the amount NATO mem­bers are ex­pected to spend on de­fense as a share of their economies. Only four of 29 al­lies meet that tar­get.

The lat­est salvo came in two tweets from Air Force One, in which he mis­rep­re­sented the ar­range­ment by which al­lies con­trib­ute to their joint de­fense.

The squab­bling over who pays for the pro­tec­tion af­forded by the al­liance has al­ready set a com­bat­ive tone for the two-day NATO sum­mit in Brus­sels this week, as the al­lies dis­cuss its re­sponse to Rus­sia’s grow­ing mil­i­tary, po­lit­i­cal and cy­ber in­cur­sions into Europe.

“Many coun­tries in NATO, which we are ex­pected to de­fend, are not only short of their cur­rent com­mit­ment of 2% (which is low), but are also delin­quent for many years in pay­ments that have not been made. Will they re­im­burse the U.S.?” Trump tweeted.

A 2014 agree­ment did re­quire mem­bers to in­crease de­fense spend­ing, with a goal of con­tribut­ing 2 per­cent of the na­tion’s eco­nomic out­put by 2024. But more im­por­tantly, that spend­ing is on their own de­fense forces — not pay­ments to the United States.

But Trump is cor­rect that only four NATO mem­bers — the United States, the United King­dom, Es­to­nia and Greece — cur­rently meet the 2 per­cent ex­pec­ta­tion. A fifth coun­try, Poland, fell to 1.99 per­cent this year, as faster-thanex­pected eco­nomic growth out­paced de­fense bud­gets.

Diplo­mats say Trump’s sin­gu­lar fo­cus on the 2 per­cent bench­mark might be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.

“The more he ha­rangues al­lies, and the more he makes this the defin­ing is­sue, the more dif­fi­cult it will be for some al­lies ac­tu­ally to in­crease spend­ing,” said Ivo Daalder, the U.S. am­bas­sador to NATO from 2009 to 2013. “Given that Trump’s pop­u­lar­ity in Europe is at an his­toric low for a U.S. pres­i­dent, ac­ced­ing to his de­mands is be­com­ing more dif­fi­cult for many Euro­pean lead­ers.”

Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Donald Tusk sug­gested as much Tues­day.

“Dear Amer­ica, ap­pre­ci­ate your al­lies. Af­ter all, you don’t have that many,” he said in Brus­sels ahead of Trump’s visit.

“We do have a lot of al­lies, but we can­not be taken ad­van­tage of,” Trump re­sponded. “We’re be­ing taken ad­van­tage of by the Euro­pean Union.”

Trump has tied the is­sue of de­fense spend­ing to his larger trade wars, say­ing the United States should not be sub­si­diz­ing na­tions with which it runs a trade deficit.

“The Euro­pean Union makes it im­pos­si­ble for our farm­ers and work­ers and com­pa­nies to do busi­ness in Europe (U.S. has a $151 Bil­lion trade deficit), and then they want us to hap­pily de­fend them through NATO, and nicely pay for it,” Trump tweeted. “Just doesn’t work!”

One par­tic­u­lar tar­get of Trump’s dis­plea­sure has been Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel.

“Ger­many pays 1 per­cent. One per­cent,” Trump said at a cam­paign rally last week. “And I said, you know, An­gela, I can’t guar­an­tee it, but we’re pro­tect­ing you, and it means a lot more to you than pro­tect­ing us be­cause I don’t know how much pro­tec­tion we get by pro­tect­ing you.”

Ger­many’s ac­tual spend­ing is 1.24 per­cent of its gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

But ex­perts say Trump’s fo­cus on the per­cent­age of de­fense spend­ing only cap­tures one di­men­sion of an ally’s con­tri­bu­tion. Ger­many’s gov­ern­ment, for ex­am­ple, ap­proved an in­crease in troops to serve in Afghanistan, to 1,300. And other coun­tries in­clude mil­i­tary pen­sions in its to­tals, which is ef­fec­tively spend­ing on past de­fense.

Trump’s com­plaints about de­fense spend­ing also ob­scure the fact that Euro­pean de­fense spend­ing is go­ing up.

Nineteen of the 29 mem­bers spend more on de­fense than they did in 2014, and NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg said half are on pace to meet the tar­get by 2024.

“We’re be­ing taken ad­van­tage of by the Euro­pean Union.” Pres­i­dent Donald Trump

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