President Donald Trump capped off his administration’s first trip abroad by scolding other members of NATO for failing to “meet their financial obligations” in a speech delivered at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
While the visibly nonplussed leaders of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, and other member NATO states looked on, Trump spoke at length about the “chronic underpayments” they allegedly had made to mutual defense.
“If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today, especially from the threat of terrorism,” he said.
“And I never asked once what the new NATO headquarters cost,” he added. “I refuse to do that.”
President Trump uses NATO speech to call for "members to contribute their fair share" & make up for many years lost https://t.co/oZPM4T4bT4
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) May 25, 2017
The refusal of other NATO states to pay their “fair share” is an old hobbyhorse of Trump’s, but it’s a myth. As former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder told the Washington Post in March, “The President keeps saying that we need to be paid by the Europeans for the fact that we have troops in Europe or provide defense there. But that’s not how it works.” Member states have until 2024 to ramp up spending so they meet a contribution target equal to 2 percent of their GDP.
Trump’s lecture was particularly striking because his administration has spent the past few weeks weakening the U.S. alliance with other NATO states through non-financial means. For instance, the president himself leaked classified intelligence about ISIS to the Russian government, NATO’s primary antagonist; then, on the same day that he tried to shake down allies for bigger contributions to mutual defense, Trump got publicly reprimanded by U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May over his administration’s leaks of sensitive intelligence regarding Monday’s attack in Manchester.
Perhaps the gulf between Trump’s demands and his personal contributions to the NATO alliance are why Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel could be seen whispering to a snickering French President Emmanuel Macron and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel during the speech.
Trump also pointedly did not reaffirm America’s commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty — the provision guaranteeing that member countries come to each others’ defense in the event of an attack — despite earlier reports that he would do so.
Every US President since Truman has pledged support for Article 5–that US will defend Europe. Not so Trump today at #NATO. Major mistake.
— Nicholas Burns (@RNicholasBurns) May 25, 2017
When German Chancellor Angela Merkel last visited the United States in March, Trump reportedly delivered another insult by handing her a fake $374 billion “invoice” for NATO expenditures. Though a German minister described the gimmick as “outrageous” at the time, the governments of both Germany and the United States later denied it ever happened.