International Desk: 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 their GDPs on defense this year. Washington spent 3.6 percent last year. When he has talked about it in recent days, Trump 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.
risingbd/Dhaka/July 12, 2018/A K Azad