Trump, NATO Chief to Meet Amid Transatlantic Tensions
President Donald Trump is meeting Tuesday with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House, as the alliance of which Trump has been critical prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary in Washington this week.
Trump has frequently blasted other NATO members for under-investing on defense and relying too heavily on the United States. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he shocked many on both sides of the Atlantic by calling the alliance “obsolete.”
He cited what he said was a missing focus on terrorism, while repeatedly claiming the United States was shouldering too much of the cost.
With NATO foreign ministers gathering for talks this week in Washington, most U.S. foreign policy experts say the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is one of the most successful military alliances in history and is far from obsolete.
“It has showcased an ability to adapt to change in the past, from dealing with a resurgent Russia, to managing crisis in south of NATO’s flank, to as well dealing with issues like cyber, so NATO is adapting and allies are spending more on defense,” Mark Simakovsky of the Atlantic Council told VOA.
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Military spending has been a core issue for Trump, who has frequently pressured European allies to increase their defense expenditures.
“Everyone’s agreed to substantially up their commitment, they are going to up it at levels they have never thought of before,” Trump told reporters during a NATO summit last year.
NATO guidelines say member states should spend at least two percent of their gross domestic product on the military each year. But only seven of the 29 member states reached that level in 2018. Some experts think the two percent rule is very important.
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“You’re not giving the money to somebody else, you’re not putting it into a NATO budget somewhere, you’re spending it on yourselves,” said McCain Institute Director Kurt Volker, who formerly served as U.S. ambassador to NATO. “But it is a demonstration of your commitment to your own security, which then gives NATO the confidence that this is a country that we can help defend as well, because they are committed to defense of their own territory.”
Others agree that defense spending is important, but say the alliance is fundamentally about the members’ ability to trust each other, and Trump has damaged that trust.
“When an American president questions the value of the alliance, our enemies in Moscow and Beijing are now questioning whether or not NATO would come to the defense of some smaller NATO nations that the president has criticized as maybe not worthy of NATO’s defense,” said Simakovsky. “But I don’t think at this summit the administration is going to be announcing any departure of the United States.”
Simakovsky said the partners agreed to downgrade the Washington meeting to a foreign minister’s meeting to avert the risk of verbal attacks from Trump.