Trump claims suc­cess on de­mand to NATO

Mem­bers say they will up de­fense spend­ing in fu­ture

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY S.A. MILLER

Pres­i­dent Trump’s bare-knuck­les diplo­macy agi­tated NATO al­lies, but he said it paid off.

Af­ter two tu­mul­tuous days at the NATO sum­mit in Brus­sels, Mr. Trump emerged claim­ing al­lies bowed to his de­mand that they sub­stan­tially in­crease de­fense spend­ing, re­liev­ing some of the bur­den on the U.S. to prop up the mil­i­tary al­liance.

NATO al­lies com­mit­ted to an ad­di­tional $33 bil­lion in de­fense spend­ing this year, he said. Sev­eral Euro­pean lead­ers balked at his claim. “I told peo­ple that I would be very un­happy if they didn’t up their com­mit­ments very sub­stan­tially, be­cause the United States has been pay­ing a tremen­dous amount,” the pres­i­dent said at a hastily ar­ranged press con­fer­ence at the close of the sum­mit.

“Now peo­ple are go­ing to start — and coun­tries are go­ing to start up­ping their com­mit­ments,” he said. “And now we’re very happy and have a very, very pow­er­ful, very, very strong NATO — much stronger than it was two days ago.”

Mr. Trump de­clared that the U.S. re­mained com­mit­ted to the mil­i­tary al­liance.

The sum­mit con­cluded Thurs­day with an emer­gency meet­ing to ad­dress bur­den shar­ing.

NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenber­g con­firmed that mem­ber coun­tries com­mit­ted to in­crease de­fense spend­ing.

“We un­der­stand that this Amer­i­can pres­i­dent is very se­ri­ous about de­fense spend­ing. And this is hav­ing a clear im­pact,” he said. “So we are step­ping up as never be­fore, al­low­ing U.S. spend­ing to go down.”

Since the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Mr. Trump has railed against NATO al­lies for not pay­ing their fair share.

The 29 NATO mem­ber coun­tries agreed in 2014 to each spend 2 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct on de­fense by 2024. Last year, ac­cord­ing to NATO data, just six coun­tries — the U.S., Bri­tain, Greece, Es­to­nia, Ro­ma­nia and Poland — were meet­ing that goal. Just two more — Latvia and Lithua­nia — are ex­pected to do so this year. The U.S. spends about 3.6 per­cent of GDP on de­fense. Mr. Trump said the U.S. con­tri­bu­tion by some ac­counts to­tals 90 per­cent of NATO fund­ing, but NATO pegs the level at about 67 per­cent.

At the sum­mit, Mr. Trump called for NATO mem­bers to spend 2 per­cent im­me­di­ately and grad­u­ally in­crease com­mit­ments to 4 per­cent of GDP.

The lead­ers of Ger­many, France and Italy dis­agreed with Mr. Trump’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the sum­mit’s out­come. They said they had not changed plans for mil­i­tary spend­ing but were open to dis­cussing fu­ture in­creases.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel called the sum­mit “very in­tense.”

Mr. Trump tar­geted the chan­cel­lor for her wealthy coun­try’s weak mil­i­tary bud­get and for sign­ing a gas pipe­line deal with Rus­sia that he said made Ger­many “to­tally con­trolled by Rus­sia.”

He said it was out­ra­geous that Ger­many was spend­ing bil­lions of dol­lars on the Nord Stream 2 pipe­line, be­com­ing en­ergy-de­pen­dent on Rus­sia and skimp­ing on de­fense spend­ing while ask­ing the U.S. to de­fend Ger­many from Rus­sia.

At the end of the sum­mit, Ms. Merkel said her coun­try was on a path to in­creased de­fense spend­ing, and “this is in our in­ter­est and that it re­in­forces us mu­tu­ally.”

Ger­many, the wealth­i­est coun­try in Europe, spent 1.35 per­cent of GDP on de­fense last year and com­mit­ted to 1.5 per­cent by 2024.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron re­jected Mr. Trump’s claims, say­ing there was no com­mit­ment to in­crease spend­ing be­yond what was in a joint dec­la­ra­tion by NATO mem­bers.

“It con­firms the goal of 2 per­cent by 2024. That’s all,” he told re­porters in Brus­sels.

France spent 1.9 per­cent of GDP on de­fense last year and is on track to reach the 2 per­cent goal, ac­cord­ing to NATO data.

Asked about re­ports that he threat­ened to quit NATO, he said he had the au­thor­ity to do it with­out the ap­proval of Con­gress but that it was un­nec­es­sary.

“This was a fan­tas­tic two days. It all came to­gether at the end,” said Mr. Trump. “There is a great, great spirit leav­ing that room.”

On that note, Mr. Trump em­barked on a visit to Bri­tain be­fore a sum­mit with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

Crit­ics ac­cused Mr. Trump of weak­en­ing the al­liance and sow­ing di­vi­sions that would em­power Rus­sia.

Christo­pher Swift, a na­tional se­cu­rity scholar at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, said the NATO sum­mit did not im­prove Mr. Trump’s hand ahead of the meet­ing with Mr. Putin.

“The prob­lem is with Putin we don’t have very many in­ter­ests in com­mon but we are be­ing ac­com­mo­dat­ing and at NATO we have a lot of in­ter­ests in com­mon but we are not be­ing ac­com­mo­dat­ing,” he said. “The peo­ple we are push­ing the hard­est are the peo­ple with whom we have the great­est align­ment of in­ter­ests.”

At the press con­fer­ence, Mr. Trump said he did not con­sider Mr. Putin a friend or an en­emy, but a competitor.

He scoffed at the sug­ges­tion that his NATO per­for­mance helped Mr. Putin.

“If you con­sider putting up tremen­dously [more] ad­di­tional funds at a level that no­body’s ever seen be­fore, I don’t think that’s help­ing Rus­sia,” said Mr. Trump.

Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can and chair­man of the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, said Mr. Trump’s per­for­mance in Brus­sels was dis­ap­point­ing but not sur­pris­ing.

He called on Mr. Trump to stop show­ing def­er­ence to Mr. Putin and to be “strong and tough” as the leader of the free world.

“Putin is not Amer­ica’s friend, nor merely a competitor. Putin is Amer­ica’s en­emy — not be­cause we wish it so, but be­cause he has cho­sen to be,” Mr. McCain said. “It is up to Pres­i­dent Trump to hold Putin ac­count­able for his ac­tions dur­ing the meet­ing in Helsinki. Fail­ure to do so would be a se­ri­ous in­dict­ment of his stew­ard­ship of Amer­i­can lead­er­ship in the world.”

The pres­i­dent’s in­ter­ac­tions with Mr. Putin in Helsinki will be closely scru­ti­nized by po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents in the U.S. who ac­cuse him of con­spir­ing with Moscow to rig the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and by Euro­peans who fear a weak­en­ing of NATO’s de­ter­rence.

The pres­i­dent is ex­pected to con­front Mr. Putin on elec­tion med­dling, the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea and wars in Syria and Ukraine. But Mr. Putin is not likely to give ground on any front.

De­ter­ring Rus­sian ag­gres­sion topped the agenda at the NATO sum­mit, al­though Mr. Trump’s fo­cus on shar­ing the de­fense bur­den over­shad­owed the gath­er­ing at the al­liance’s new head­quar­ters in Brus­sels.

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