Trump schools NATO on American interests

world | Jul 11, 2018 | By Martin Barillas

President Donald Trump on Wednesday had a frank exchange of views with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a Norwegian diplomat who heads the alliance, in Brussels as part of the president’s discussions with allied leaders. The president had set a combative tone even before his arrival in Belgium, tweeting: “Many countries in NATO, which we are expected to defend, are not only short of their current commitment of 2 percent [of GDP], (which is low), but are also delinquent for many years in payments that have not been made. Will they reimburse the U.S.?”

Delinquent allies

Trump repeated these themes at a working breakfast on Wednesday, saying: “And many countries are not paying what they should.  And, 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...It’s massive amounts of money is owed.  The United States has paid and stepped up like nobody...But no other President brought it up like I bring it up.  So something has to be done, and the Secretary General has been working on it very hard.”

Trump said that commitments from the allies have been made for over $40 billion, which he characterized as a “very small step.” Adding that that it is a “very small amount of money relative to what they owe” and which is “an unfair burden on the United States.”

After greeting Trump, Stoltenberg said that in the summit’s discussions on defense spending, “we all agree that we have to do more.  I agree with you that we have to do make sure that our allies are investing more.  The good news is that allies have started to invest more in defense. After years of cutting defense budgets, they have started to add billions to their defense budgets.  And last year was the biggest increase in defense spending across Europe and Canada in that generation.”

Trump's 'leadership'

Trump cut in and asked, “Why was that last year?” Stoltenberg responded, “It’s also because of your leadership, because of your carried message.  And —” Trump cut in again and, referencing the media in attendance, said, “They won’t write that, but that’s okay.”

Stoltenberg offered more remarks along the lines of a typical diplomatic set-piece, saying “No, I have said it before, but the thing is that it really has.  And your message is having an impact, and we are going to build on that to make sure that we have further increases.  You initiated last year that all allies are going to develop national plans on how to spend more on defense.  And based on these national plans, we now estimate that European allies and Canada will add 266 extra U.S. dollars for defense from now until — billion U.S. dollars — until 2024.”

Stoltenberg argued that “a strong NATO is good for Europe and it’s also good for the United States.  The U.S. presence in Europe helps to protect Europe, but it also helps the United States project power to the Middle East, to Africa.  And I think also that clout — the military clout of Europe, economic clout, the political clout — also is helpful dealing with Russia.  And we look forward to the meeting you’re going to have with President Putin.  And I think that leaders are also looking forward to your thoughts about the meeting with President Putin later on.”

At this juncture, Trump took control of the meeting and shed light on the economic and strategic underpinnings of his diplomatic initiative. 

Germany is 'captive' of Russia

Trump: “Now, if you look at it, Germany is a captive of Russia because they supply. They got rid of their coal plants. They got rid of their nuclear. They’re getting so much of the oil and gas from Russia. I think it’s something that NATO has to look at. I think it’s very inappropriate. You and I agree that it’s inappropriate. I don’t know what you can do about it now, but it certainly doesn’t seem to make sense that they paid billions of dollars to Russia and now we have to defend them against Russia.”

Trump was referring to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that will connect Russian natural gas sources to Germany’s consumers, which will have a negative impact on Ukraine’s finances because its pipeline would thus be sidestepped. The president may also be concerned about the impact that the pipeline will have on exports of American liquefied natural gas exports.

Stoltenberg: “You know, NATO is an alliance of 29 nations, and there are sometimes differences and different views, and also some disagreements. And the gas pipeline from Russia to Germany is one issue where allies disagree. But the strength of NATO is that despite these differences, we have always been able to unite around our core task, to protect and defend each other, because we understand that we are stronger together than apart.

“I think that two World Wars and the Cold War taught us that we are stronger together than apart.”

Trump: “But how can you be together when a country is getting its energy from the person you want protection against or from the group that you want protection?”

Trump continued to press Stoltenberg. “Now, this has been going on for decades.  This has been brought up by other presidents.  But other presidents never did anything about it because I don’t think they understood it or they just didn’t want to get involved."

Germany unfair to America

Trump continued, “But I have to bring it up, because I think it’s very unfair to our country.  It’s very unfair to our taxpayer.  And I think that these countries have to step it up not over a 10-year period; they have to step it up immediately.  Germany is a rich country.  They talk about they’re going to increase it a tiny bit by 2030.  Well, they could increase it immediately tomorrow and have no problem.  I don’t think it’s fair to the United States.

“So we’re going to have to do something because we’re not going to put up with it.  We can’t put up with it.  And it’s inappropriate.

“So we have to talk about the billions and billions of dollars that’s being paid to the country that we’re supposed to be protecting you against.  You know, everybody is talking about it all over the world.  They’ll say, well, wait a minute, we’re supposed to be protecting you from Russia, but why are you paying billions of dollars to Russia for energy?  Why are countries in NATO, namely Germany, having a large percentage of their energy needs paid to Russia and taken care of by Russia?

“Now, if you look at it, Germany is a captive of Russia because they supply.  They got rid of their coal plants.  They got rid of their nuclear.  They’re getting so much of the oil and gas from Russia.  I think it’s something that NATO has to look at.  I think it’s very inappropriate.  You and I agree that it’s inappropriate.  I don’t know what you can do about it now, but it certainly doesn’t seem to make sense that they paid billions of dollars to Russia and now we have to defend them against Russia.”

Stoltenberg: “Because we understand that when we stand together, also in dealing with Russia, we are stronger.” The NATO diplomat then said that NATO allies continued to trade with Russia even during the Cold War. Trump dismissed the comment, saying that “energy is a whole different story” and that Poland has not signed off on the deal.

Trump met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel later in the day. The president said they had a “great meeting” where they discussed trade and military spending. For her part, Merkel said they exchanged views on migration and trade. “We are partners, we are good partners, and wish to continue to cooperate in the future,” said Merkel. Germany remains Europe’s largest economy. Trump told NATO leaders that they must double defense spending, from a target of 2% of GDP by 2024, to 4% of GDP, according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

A poll conducted by the Pew research organization found that nearly half of Americans feel that NATO does too little, even though their counterparts in Europe feel differently. In the U.S., 78 percent of Democrats polled in 2017 were favorable toward the alliance, as opposed to only 48 percent of Republicans.

 

Large majority of Democrats favor NATO

Democrats unhappy

Following the news from Brussels, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called Trump an “embarrassment” and said that his remarks were “another profoundly disturbing signal that the president is more loyal to President Putin than to our NATO allies.”

In 2015, the Pew research organization noted that there were sharp differences between congressional Republicans and Democrats over NATO and the threat posed by Russia during the Obama administration. 

A Pew survey showed that two-thirds of congressional Republicans saw Russia as a military threat, as opposed to only 56 percent of  Democrats who shared the concern. Half of Republicans said Russia was to blame for the war in eastern Ukraine, only 39 percent of Democrats agree.

“Members of both parties support NATO membership for Ukraine. Such support is greater among members of the GOP (71%) than among Democrats (59%). Moreover, there is a partisan difference about U.S. obligations to come to the military assistance of other NATO members. Nearly seven-in-ten Republicans (69%) say that Washington should come to the aid of its allies in the event of Russian aggression. But only 47% of Democrats back that long-standing U.S. treaty obligation, while 48% oppose it.”

In advance of the July 16 Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, some Democrats continued to ventilate the unproven accusation that Trump somehow benefited from Russian election meddling in 2016 and will therefore favor Russia in the coming negotiations.

 

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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