Trump rips NATO al­lies on mil­i­tary spend­ing

Af­ter com­ments, pres­i­dent signs al­liance’s crit­i­cism of Rus­sia

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Hirschfeld Davis

BRUS­SELS — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump as­sailed Ger­many on Wednes­day and de­manded that al­lies dou­ble their mil­i­tary spend­ing tar­gets, un­leash­ing a broad­side against NATO mem­ber coun­tries just days be­fore his meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of Rus­sia.

But even as Trump raised ques­tions about his com­mit­ment to NATO by lec­tur­ing Euro­pean part­ners about lean­ing too heav­ily on the United States to pro­tect them, he signed on to a sum­mit dec­la­ra­tion that em­pha­sized strength and bur­den-shar­ing within the al­liance and harshly crit­i­cized Rus­sia for its an­nex­a­tion of Crimea.

The con­trast re­flected a grow­ing dis­con­nect be­tween Trump and the more tra­di­tion­ally minded for­eign-pol­icy ad­vis­ers in his govern­ment when it comes to the role of the United States on the world stage. While his aides and ad­vis­ers toil pri­vately to main­tain U.S. global lead­er­ship, post-World War II in­sti­tu­tions and strong al­liances, the pres­i­dent ap­pears bent on chal­leng­ing if not up­end­ing those con­ven­tions to get what he con­sid­ers a bet­ter deal for the United States — even if he does not fol­low through on all of his threats.

Trump was primed for con­fronta­tion be­fore the gath­er­ing was ever called to or­der here in a large glass-and-steel NATO head­quar­ters build-

ing that he has com­plained looks overly lav­ish. At a break­fast with NATO Sec­re­tary­Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg, Trump made it clear that he had come to Brus­sels as a vir­tual pariah among al­lies and was per­fectly happy to be seen that way.

“I think the sec­re­tary-gen­eral likes Trump,” he said, al­lud­ing to al­lies’ step­ping up their mil­i­tary spend­ing in re­sponse to his pres­sure tac­tics. “He may be the only one, but that’s OK with me.”

Trump spent the next sev­eral hours prac­ti­cally en­sur­ing it. He laid into Ger­many for not spend­ing more on its mil­i­tary while be­com­ing in­creas­ingly de­pen­dent on Rus­sia for its en­ergy needs, calling it a “cap­tive of Rus­sia.” His crit­i­cism was based on Ger­many’s deal to im­port nat­u­ral gas from Rus­sia.

He dis­missed as pal­try — “a very small step,” the pres­i­dent said — the in­creases that NATO mem­ber coun­tries have made in their mil­i­tary bud­gets, in part be­cause of his re­peated lec­tures on the is­sue.

“Frankly, many coun­tries owe us a tremen­dous amount of money for many years back, where they’re delin­quent, as far as I’m con­cerned, be­cause the United States has had to pay for them,” Trump said, mis­char­ac­ter­iz­ing how the com­mit­ments for NATO mil­i­tary spend­ing work. “This has gone on for many pres­i­dents, but no other pres­i­dent brought it up like I bring it up.”

Be­hind closed doors, Trump sug­gested that NATO al­lies in­crease their mil­i­tary bud­gets not to the 2 per­cent of their economies that they have pledged to work to­ward within the next six years, but to 4 per­cent — a steep in­crease that is in­con­ceiv­able for many mem­ber coun­tries. Later, he took to Twit­ter to de­mand that mem­ber coun­tries get to 2 per­cent “IM­ME­DI­ATELY, not by 2025.”

Yet un­like at the Group of 7 meet­ing in Que­bec last month, Trump did not refuse to sign the NATO dec­la­ra­tion, al­though it was a mark of how much un­cer­tainty he has cre­ated among al­lies that news of his agree­ment to the ba­sic state­ment of prin­ci­ples and goals was not a fore­gone con­clu­sion.

The first day of the sum­mit of­fered a stark por­trait of an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent who is more com­fort­able us­ing sharp el­bows and less will­ing than ever to be re­strained by aides and ad­vis­ers.

It also re­flected the de­gree to which Trump, look­ing to­ward midterm con­gres­sional elec­tions in which the Repub­li­cans’ con­trol of Con­gress is at stake, be­lieves that at­tack­ing Europe and NATO play well with his po­lit­i­cal base. The pop­ulist core of his sup­port is fu­eled in part by anger over what they con­sider un­fair treat­ment of the United States on mat­ters of trade, im­mi­gra­tion and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs.

“I think he feels it’s play­ing well with his base, fu­el­ing this sense of griev­ance against al­lies and trad­ing part­ners, which is how he got elected,” Alexan­der Ver­sh­bow, a for­mer NATO deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral, said of Trump in an in­ter­view.

“The dan­ger,” Ver­sh­bow said, “is that he’s turn­ing at least his base, and maybe other Amer­i­cans, against NATO and against U.S. global lead­er­ship by falsely defin­ing it as a pro­tec­tion racket where we haven’t been paid enough by the pro­tectees, rather than as a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial al­liance that has kept peace and ex­panded the fron­tiers of democ­racy.”

Trump’s con­dem­na­tion of Ger­many also high­lighted his de­ter­mi­na­tion to turn the ta­bles on his crit­ics, at a dis­tance if not in per­son.

By point­ing out the close con­nec­tions be­tween Ger­many and Rus­sia on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipe­line, and the de­gree to which they de­pend on each other fi­nan­cially, Trump was bor­row­ing a page from his crit­ics, who sug­gest that be­cause of Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion on his be­half, he is be­holden to Putin. It was a way of im­ply­ing that it is Ger­many’s leader, not he, who is too com­pro­mised to be able to ef­fec­tively counter the Rus­sian pres­i­dent.

“The for­mer chan­cel­lor of Ger­many is the head of the pipe­line com­pany that’s sup­ply­ing the gas,” Trump said, re­fer­ring to Ger­hard Schröder, a for­mer Ger­man chan­cel­lor and friend of Putin’s who leads the pro­ject. “So you tell me, is that ap­pro­pri­ate?”

In a face-to-face meet­ing with Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel of Ger­many later in the day, Trump was more con­cil­ia­tory, say­ing the two had a “very, very good re­la­tion­ship.” But ear­lier, Merkel had re­acted sharply to the pres­i­dent’s talk of Ger­many be­ing “con­trolled by Rus­sia” be­cause of its en­ergy needs.

“I my­self ex­pe­ri­enced a part of Ger­many that was con­trolled by the Soviet Union, and I am very happy to­day that we are united in free­dom as the Fed­eral Repub­lic of Ger­many,” she said as she en­tered the NATO build­ing for the sum­mit. “We de­cide our own poli­cies and make our own decisions.”

GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump at­tends a meet­ing of the North At­lantic Coun­cil dur­ing a sum­mit Wednes­day at NATO head­quar­ters in Brus­sels.

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