Trump scolds NATO al­lies on de­fense spend­ing

URGES DOU­BLING OF FUND­ING GOALS But he signs on to group pledge against Rus­sia

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MICHAEL BIRNBAUM AND SEUNG MIN KIM

brus­sels — Pres­i­dent Trump ripped into NATO al­lies Wednes­day, slam­ming Ger­many for its de­pen­dence on Rus­sian en­ergy and de­mand­ing that na­tions dou­ble their mil­i­tary spend­ing com­mit­ments.

Euro­pean diplo­mats have been wor­ried about con­tin­ued U.S. sup­port for NATO. But even as Trump hit al­lies, he also signed on to ef­forts to strengthen the al­liance against the Krem­lin and other ri­vals, as well as a state­ment that the al­liance does not ac­cept Rus­sia’s 2014 an­nex­a­tion of Crimea.

On spend­ing, Trump in­sisted in a closed-door meet­ing of NATO lead­ers that the al­liance in­crease its de­fense tar­gets to 4 per­cent of each coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic prod­uct — more than what the United States chan­nels to­ward its mil­i­tary. It was not clear whether he was se­ri­ous about a new stan­dard or whether he was us­ing the num­ber as a ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tic to edge over­all spend­ing higher and get Euro­pean na­tions to pay more.

The push came hours af­ter Trump bashed Ger­many for “be­ing cap­tive to Rus­sia” be­cause it im­ports much of its nat­u­ral gas from there. That tirade, over break­fast with NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg, was rare in its bit­ter­ness.

“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.

De­spite the con­tentious­ness, Trump agreed to a 23-page dec­la­ra­tion that Stoltenberg said would guide a more ro­bust NATO de­fense for years to come. Other NATO lead­ers wel­comed the de­ci­sion, even as they said Trump’s di­vi­sive ap­proach to his al­lies

weak­ened the al­liance.

Stoltenberg sought to pro­ject unity at the con­clu­sion of the first of two days 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.”

NATO lead­ers are still con­cerned that Trump will make con­ces­sions to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin when the two meet on Mon­day in Helsinki.

Trump has com­plained bit­terly about Europe’s lag­ging de­fense spend­ing, say­ing that NATO na­tions are tak­ing ad­van­tage of U.S. mil­i­tary largesse at the same time they are of­fer­ing un­fair trade terms to U.S. busi­nesses.

Only eight of 29 NATO coun­tries are on track to meet pledges of spend­ing 2 per­cent of GDP on de­fense this year. Wash­ing­ton spent 3.6 per­cent last year. When Trump has talked about it in re­cent days, he has rounded up to 4 per­cent. And af­ter Wednes­day’s meet­ing, he tweeted with a de­mand for coun­tries to meet the cur­rent 2 per­cent tar­get.

“Pres­i­dent Trump wants to see our al­lies share more of the bur­den and at a very min­i­mum meet their al­ready stated obli­ga­tions,” White House spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said in a state­ment.

Sev­eral NATO ex­perts dis­missed the se­ri­ous­ness of the 4 per­cent pro­posal.

“No coun­try in the world can meet that,” said Bobo Lo, a Rus­sia scholar who at­tended the sum­mit. “He’s ask­ing for some­thing out­ra­geous, not in the hope of get­ting it, but in get­ting to 2 per­cent or more.”

An of­fi­cial present when Trump made the de­mand said that “the room was aghast,” even though Trump was ac­tu­ally more cor­dial in pri­vate than in his pub­lic re­marks. The of­fi­cial, like oth­ers, spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to de­scribe the pri­vate pro­ceed­ings.

A fa­vorite tar­get of Trump’s ire has been Ger­many, which has not met its NATO spend­ing com­mit­ments and has granted per­mits for a sec­ond nat­u­ral gas pipe­line to Rus­sia. Ger­many and other Euro­pean NATO part­ners ar­gue, how­ever, that they have boosted their con­tri­bu­tions to the mil­i­tary al­liance and plan to kick in more in com­ing years. Ger­many’s lead­er­ship has said the pipe­line is a pri­vate busi­ness de­ci­sion, and it has been reluc­tant to in­ter­fere.

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

“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,” Merkel told re­porters as she en­tered NATO head­quar­ters. “We de­cide our own poli­cies and make our own decisions.”

In­side the closed-door meet­ing, she went fur­ther in her push­back, ac­cord­ing to two of­fi­cials who were present. In firm, un­emo­tional lan­guage, Merkel told the other 28 lead­ers how Putin once served as a KGB of­fi­cer and spy in her own coun­try, mak­ing clear that she had lit­tle tol­er­ance for be­ing told her na­tion was con­trolled by the Krem­lin.

Trump trav­eled to Europe say­ing that next week’s sum­mit with Putin may be the eas­i­est part of his week of diplo­macy — an un­usual as­ser­tion, chal­leng­ing the no­tion that NATO should pro­ject a strong and united front against a strate­gic ri­val.

Trump has pre­ferred to take aim at al­lies.

Even Stoltenberg — a mild­man­nered for­mer Nor­we­gian prime min­is­ter who has cul­ti­vated a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with the pres­i­dent — ap­peared re­duced to splut­ter­ing as Trump cut him off af­ter he started to ex­plain that al­lies traded with Rus­sia even dur­ing the Cold War.

“We’re sup­posed to pro­tect Ger­many, but they’re get­ting their en­ergy from Rus­sia,” Trump said, as aides on both the U.S. and NATO side of a long ta­ble shifted in their seats. Trump’s chief of staff, John F. Kelly, gri­maced. U.S. Am­bas­sador to NATO Kay Bai­ley Hutchi­son looked up at the ceil­ing. “So ex­plain that,” Trump said. “And it can’t be ex­plained, and you know that.”

Ger­many’s en­ergy re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia has long frus­trated Wash­ing­ton.

Trump has pro­moted ex­ports of U.S. nat­u­ral gas to Europe as an al­ter­na­tive sup­ply source, al­though U.S. gas is far more ex­pen­sive be­cause of ship­ping costs.

The de­fense decisions made Wednes­day were the re­sult of months of care­ful ne­go­ti­a­tion, seem­ingly sep­a­rate from Trump’s im­pro­visatory pol­i­cy­mak­ing.

NATO lead­ers un­veiled two new mil­i­tary head­quar­ters: one that would help se­cure the At­lantic Ocean in times of con­flict and the other to speed mil­i­tary move­ment across Europe. They bol­stered NATO mis­sions in Iraq and Afghanistan and ex­panded ef­forts to fight ter­ror­ism. And they re­con­firmed their tough line on Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea, as well as their pledge to con­tinue press­ing the Krem­lin through sanc­tions and diplo­macy to re­turn it to Ukraine. Of­fi­cials from the NATO coun­tries that bor­der Rus­sia em­braced the out­come.

“All the decisions con­tain every­thing we were wish­ing for,” said Lat­vian For­eign Min­is­ter Edgars Rinke­vics. “It shows that there is a gen­uine wish to have prac­ti­cal co­op­er­a­tion.”

“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.”

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Pres­i­dent Trump and other lead­ers watch a he­li­copter fly over NATO head­quar­ters in Brus­sels on the first day of a two-day sum­mit. Trump took a swipe at Ger­many’s An­gela Merkel, left, say­ing her coun­try is “cap­tive to Rus­sia” be­cause it im­ports so much nat­u­ral gas.

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Ger­many’s An­gela Merkel re­sponded firmly to Pres­i­dent Trump’s “cap­tive to Rus­sia” re­mark.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.