Trump: NATO not spend­ing enough

Af­ter crit­i­ciz­ing al­lies’ con­tri­bu­tion, pres­i­dent seeks boost to de­fenses.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Birn­baum and Se­ung Min Kim Wash­ing­ton Post

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Wed­nes­day is­sued an am­bi­tious call for more de­fense spend­ing at NATO, push­ing for a dou­bling of their de­fense spend­ing com­mit­ments hours af­ter he de­liv­ered a cri­tique of Ger­many and other al­lies.

The re­quest, made dur­ing a closed-door meet­ing of NATO lead- ers, would in­crease the amount of money chan­neled to­ward mil­i­tary pur­poses in the West­ern al­liance — and even the United States is cur­rently fall­ing well short of Trump’s new goal.

Although the pres­i­dent joined fel­low NATO lead­ers in ap­prov­ing a sweep­ing set of plans to im­prove de­fenses against Rus­sia and ter­ror­ism, the U.S. pres­i­dent has said that Europe has been tak­ing ad­van­tage of U.S. mil­i­tary sup­port for the con­ti­nent. He urged his coun­ter­parts to raise tar­gets that they are al­ready miss­ing.

The move would raise bil­lions

more for de­fense. But not even the United States — which spends more money on de­fense than any other na­tion in the world — meets the pres­i­dent’s new goal of an­nual spend­ing of 4 per­cent of na­tions’ gross do­mes­tic prod­uct. Wash­ing­ton spent 3.6 per­cent last year.

“Dur­ing the pres­i­dent’s re­marks to­day at the NATO sum­mit he sug­gested that coun­tries not only meet their com­mit­ment of 2 per­cent of their GDP on de­fense spend­ing, but that they in­crease it to 4 per­cent. The pres­i­dent raised this same is­sue when he was at NATO last year,” White House spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said .

“Pres­i­dent Trump wants to see our al­lies share more of the bur­den and at a very min­i­mum meet their al­ready stated obli­ga­tions,” she said.

Asked at a news con­fer­ence about the pres­i­dent’s re­quest on de­fense spend­ing, NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg sug­gested that the fo­cus should be on get­ting ev­ery mem­ber coun­try to reach the cur­rent goal of 2 per­cent. Only eight of 29 NATO coun­tries are on track to meet the 2 per­cent goal this year.

De­spite the pres­i­dent’s re­quest, al­lies sought to project unity at the con­clu­sion of meet­ings in Brus­sels.

“We do have dis­agree­ments, but most im­por­tantly, we have de­ci­sions that are push­ing this al­liance for­ward and mak­ing us stronger,” Stoltenberg said. “At the end of the day, we all agree that North Amer­ica and Europe are safer to­gether.”

The de­ci­sion to sign on to the NATO de­fense plans sug­gested that the pres­i­dent is hold­ing back from re­duc­ing sup­port for the al­liance, de­spite his view of what he says is Europe’s tak­ing ad­van­tage of the U.S. se­cu­rity um­brella. NATO lead­ers are still con­cerned that he will make con­ces­sions to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin when the two meet on Mon­day in Helsinki.

The se­ries of meet­ings — be­gin­ning with NATO and capped by a sum­mit with Putin — has been largely framed around the pres­i­dent’s be­lief that Wash­ing­ton bears an un­fair bur­den to help pro­tect its al­lies.

“Ger­many, as far as I’m con­cerned, is cap­tive to Rus­sia be­cause it’s get­ting so much of its en­ergy from Rus­sia,” Trump told Stoltenberg.

“We have to talk about the bil­lions and bil­lions of dol­lars that’s be­ing paid to the coun­try we’re sup­posed to be pro­tect­ing you against,” Trump said, re­fer­ring to Euro­pean pur­chases of Rus­sian nat­u­ral gas.

Ger­many has not met its NATO spend­ing com­mit­ments and is be­gin­ning con­struc­tion on a sec­ond nat­u­ral gas pipe­line to Rus­sia. Ger­many and other Euro­pean NATO part­ners ar­gue, how­ever, that they have in­creased con­tri­bu­tions to the mil­i­tary al­liance and plan to give more in com­ing years. Ger­many’s lead­er­ship has said the pipe­line is a pri­vate busi­ness de­ci­sion and they have been reluc­tant to in­ter­fere.

The ac­cu­sa­tion of Rus­sian in­flu­ence may have been par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult for Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, who grew up in Com­mu­nist East Ger­many.

The U.S. leader trav­eled to Europe say­ing that a Mon­day sum­mit with Putin will be the eas­i­est of his week of diplo­macy — an as­ser­tion that dif­fered from NATO lead­ers’ be­lief that the al­liance should project a strong and united front against a strate­gic ri­val.

Trump is in Brus­sels for two days of NATO meet­ings. Af­ter that, he will travel to Eng­land to meet with Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, then spend the week­end at one of his pri­vate golf clubs in Scot­land. Fi­nally, he will head to Helsinki for a sum­mit with Putin.

DOUG MILLS / THE NEW YORK TIMES

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel at the NATO sum­mit in Brus­sels on Wed­nes­day.

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