Washington — US President Donald Trump affirmed his country’s commitment to Nato, but only after dragging top allies — Germany in particular — through a chaotic two days of insults, accusations and demands for them to have more military spending.
In a news conference hastily arranged on Thursday on reports he had privately threatened to pull out of the post-Second World War alliance if countries do not rapidly raise their defence spending, Trump said he believed he could leave Nato without Congress’s authorisation. But he said doing so would be “unnecessary” because countries had agreed to spend more.
Trump was vague on the details of any new financial commitments or timelines. US allies played down his assertions that they’ve raised spending targets above levels agreed upon in 2014.
Trump insisted his divisive posture throughout the Nato meeting would not — as some critics have suggested — play into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump is to meet next week. Persuading western nations to spend more on their militaries isn’t something Russia wants, the president said.
“Everyone’s agreed to substantially up their commitment,” Trump said at the news conference in Brussels. He said allies had agreed to raise defence spending by $33bn amid his reported threats to withdraw.
While Trump claimed victory, European leaders were more reticent on their spending plans
“I just want fairness for the United States,” he said.
Trump wouldn’t confirm that he’d threatened to pull the US from the defence bloc, though he admitted being more assertive about pressuring allies to increase their defence spending.
He said the US commitment to the 29-member Nato remains very strong and cited “the additional money they will be putting up” and “the level of spirit in that room” during the meetings.
Nato leaders held an emergency session on the last day of the summit after it was upended by Trump’s attacks on allies. One Nato government official said the morning meeting on Thursday was taking place against the backdrop of Trump threatening allies to “go it alone” unless they agreed to raise their defence budgets immediately.
While Trump claimed victory, European leaders were more reticent on their spending plans. French President Emmanuel Macron was closest to countering Trump, saying Nato members “agreed to raise spending as they agreed in 2014”. That’s a reference to a commitment made at a previous summit to halt declines in defence outlays and “move towards” a goal of spending 2% of GDP by 2024.
“Everyone agreed to respect the commitments they made,” Macron said. “We reaffirmed a credible budget strategy that meets our needs.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country knew it needed to do more and was already doing so. The change in trend had long since begun.
“We’ll have to talk about to what extent we can do more on defence,” she said. “We presented the current situation. But considering the discussion among the European allies, not only the Americans, I think we need to ask ourselves consistently what more we can do.”
Merkel’s government has committed to spend about 1.5% of GDP on military spending by 2024, calling it a more realistic goal for its expanding export-driven economy. She lacks support for robust military budgets.
Trump said he extracted a firm commitment by all Nato allies to substantially increase their defence spending to more than 2% of their economic output, within a “relatively short period of years.” After that, they’ll keep increasing it to 4%, a number he called the right one.
“Nato is now much stronger than it was two days ago,” Trump said.