BRUSSELS — President Donald Trump on Wednesday called for a vast increase in defense spending by NATO members, hours after he delivered blistering criticism against Germany and other allies.
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.
Trump’s spending demand, made during a closed meeting of NATO leaders, would double the amount of money channeled toward military purposes in the Western alliance.
But even the U.S. is falling short of the president’s new goal.
“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,” White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “The president raised this same issue when he was at NATO last year.
“President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and at a very minimum meet their already stated obligations,” Sanders said.
The U.S.’ defense spending last year equaled 3.6 percent of its gross domestic product.
Asked at a news conference about Trump’s demands, 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.
A formal summit declaration issued by the NATO leaders Wednesday reaffirmed their “unwavering commitment” to the 2 percent pledge set in 2014 and made no reference to any effort to go higher.
Trump was primed for confrontation before the start of the bloc’s gathering. At a breakfast with Stoltenberg, Trump made clear that he was a virtual pariah among allies in Brussels and that he was perfectly happy to be seen that way.
Trump didn’t blame Stoltenberg for the state of affairs, however, saying the secretary-general has “worked very hard on this problem” of spending.
“I think the secretary-general likes Trump,” the president said. “He may be the only one, but that’s OK with me.”
Trump laid into Germany for not spending more on its military while becoming increasingly dependent on Russia for its energy needs, calling it “captive to Russia.” His criticism, based on Germany’s deal to import natural gas from Russia, quickly drew rebuke from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Trump dismissed as paltry the increases that NATO member countries have made in their military budgets in part because of his repeated lectures on the issue, calling those increases “a very small step.”
“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. “This has gone on for many presidents, but no other president brought it up like I bring it up.”
“Something has to be done,” Trump added.
NATO allies have pledged to work toward reaching the 2 percent goal within the next six years, but Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to demand that member countries get to 2 percent “IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025.”
Despite Trump’s tough stance, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday tweeted praise for the organization.
Pompeo said NATO “is the most successful alliance in history,” adding that “All #NATOallies have committed to extending this success through increased defense spending, deterrence and defense, and fighting terrorism. Weakness provokes; strength and cohesion protects. This remains our bedrock belief.”
‘CAPTIVE TO RUSSIA’
In his criticism of Germany, Trump declared during the breakfast in an on-camera exchange with Stoltenberg that the country, “as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia.”
“We’re supposed to protect Germany, but they’re getting their energy from Russia,” Trump told Stoltenberg, as aides on both the U.S. and NATO side of a long table shifted in their seats and sat stonefaced.
Chief of Staff John Kelly jerked his head away as 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.”
Trump urged NATO to look into the matter.
At the center of the president’s concern is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would take gas from Russia to Germany’s northeastern Baltic coast, bypassing Eastern European nations like Poland and Ukraine and doubling the amount of gas Russia can send directly to Germany.
The vast undersea pipeline is opposed by the U.S. and some other European Union members, who warn it could give Moscow greater leverage over western Europe.
It’s expected to be online at the end of 2019.
Trump has promoted exports of U.S. natural gas to Europe as an alternative to Russia as a supply source, though U.S. gas is far more costly because of the expense of shipping it.
Trump said the joint venture with Moscow has left Merkel’s government “totally controlled” by the Russians.
He later questioned the necessity of the alliance that formed a bulwark against Soviet aggression, tweeting, “What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?”
Trump, who has been accused by some critics of being too eager to improve relations with Moscow, is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday in Helsinki.
One senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to describe interactions with the president, said that Trump was aware of — and had groused about — the criticism that he is too close to Putin.
That official described Trump’s comment about the pipeline, which echoed security concerns voiced by the Barack Obama administration, as a response to what the president feels is a double standard about his relationship with Russia.
Merkel hit back quickly after Trump’s comments.
Drawing on her own background growing up in communist East Germany behind the Iron Curtain, she said: “I’ve experienced myself a part of Germany controlled by the Soviet Union, and I’m very happy today that we are united in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany and can thus say that we can determine our own policies and make our own decisions, and that’s very good.”
In remarks inside the closed meeting of NATO leaders, she went even further in her push-back against Trump, according to two officials who were present and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private remarks. 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, the officials said.
Hours after Trump’s comments, he and Merkel appeared to play nice as they met along the summit’s sidelines.
Trump told reporters the two have a “very, very good relationship” and congratulated Merkel on her “tremendous success.”
Back in the U.S., House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., issued a joint statement describing Trump’s “brazen insults and denigration of one of America’s most steadfast allies, Germany,” as “an embarrassment.”
“His behavior this morning is another profoundly disturbing signal that the president is more loyal to President Putin than to our NATO allies,” they wrote.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., also criticized Trump’s rhetoric.
“I do believe everybody should get to 2 percent quickly, but the NATO alliance is something that’s very important to the United States and our citizenry, and things that are said to try and create instability, all that it does is strengthen Putin,” Corker said, describing concerns “about conciliatory things that could occur in Helsinki” when Trump sits down with the Russian president.
But Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said the pipeline issue strikes at the “heart of NATO unity.”
“The pipeline gets cheap Russian gas to Germany while bypassing smaller Eastern European nations, allowing Russia to pressure them while Germany is held harmless,” he tweeted, adding: “No amount of preening in Berlin will cover this nakedly selfish policy.”
Information for this article was contributed by Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times; by Michael Birnbaum, Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey, John Hudson and Philip Rucker of The Washington Post; by Nick Wadhams of Bloomberg News; and by Jonathan Lemire, Jill Colvin, Ken Thomas, Darlene Superville, Zeke Miller, Matthew Lee and Maria Danilova of The Associated Press.
A Section on 07/12/2018