During the opening minutes of the NATO summit in Belgium, President Trump used a photo op to launch an unhinged attack on Germany, accusing the country of being “totally controlled by Russia.”
“Germany as far as I am concerned is captive to Russia, because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia,” Trump said on Wednesday, in comments directed toward NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who was sitting across a table from Trump. “So we’re supposed to protect Germany, but they’re getting their energy from Russia. Explain that — and it can’t be explained, you know that.”
Ironically, Trump was doing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bidding while accusing Germany of being beholden to Russia, as fraying the NATO alliance has been one of Putin’s longtime goals.
At another point during the event, Chief of Staff John Kelly, sitting two seats to Trump’s right, became visibly uncomfortable when the president said that “Germany is totally controlled by Russia, because they will getting between 60 and 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline, and you tell me if that is appropriate, because I think it’s not, and I think it’s very bad thing for NATO, and I don’t think it should have happened, and I think we have to talk to Germany about it.”
According to CNN, as of 2015, Germany imported about 35 percent of its natural gas from Russia — roughly the same amount the country imported from Norway, and slightly more than it imported from the Netherlands. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told CNN that the country’s energy portfolio is “a very diverse mix of energy supplies.”
During the event on Tuesday, Stoltenberg alternated between trying to flatter Trump and pushing back on his attacks.
“We understand that when we stand together also in dealing with Russia, we are stronger,” he said. But Trump responded by repeating his accusation that Germany “is captive to Russia.”
Trump’s comments revealed a profound confusion about the purpose of NATO. Though the president seems to think the organization is about the American military protecting Europe from Russia, it is in fact a military alliance between 28 countries.
This is something former President Ronald Reagan understood. In 1988, Reagan said “our first priority is to maintain a strong and healthy partnership between North America and Europe… We will never sacrifice the interests of this partnership in any agreement with the Soviet Union.”
Trump, however, seems to falsely believe the U.S. is owed “reimbursements” from NATO members like Germany who don’t yet spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.
Many countries in NATO, which we are expected to defend, are not only short of their current commitment of 2% (which is low), but are also delinquent for many years in payments that have not been made. Will they reimburse the U.S.?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2018
While it’s true that only a handful of the 28 member countries currently spend 2 percent or more of their GDP on defense, a 2014 agreement gave all of them a decade to get to the 2 percent level. As CNN details, member nations are largely on track to meet that goal. In the meantime, there is no firm commitment as to how much each country should spend.
Trump’s suggestion that the U.S. is entitled to a “reimbursement” is absurd. As the Guardian explains, since each country contributes toward the organization in accordance with their capabilities, NATO members “do not ‘owe’ or have to compensate any other country.”
After leaving Belgium, Trump is scheduled to have a summit with Putin. Before departing for Europe on Tuesday, Trump — who repeatedly attacked the NATO alliance on Twitter on Tuesday — told reporters that his meeting with Putin “may be the easiest” he has during his trip to Europe.
“So I have NATO; I have the UK, which is in somewhat turmoil; and I have Putin,” Trump said, referring to meetings he has during his trip to Europe. “Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think? Who would think?”
Trump is currently under criminal investigation for possibly colluding with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. At a time when Russia is an international pariah because of its invasions of neighbors like Georgia and Ukraine, the president of the United States has repeatedly denigrated the country’s historical allies in Europe while expressing hope that relations with Russia will become closer.
UPDATE (7/11, 10:00 a.m.) — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) released a joint statement denouncing Trump’s attack on Germany.
In joint statement, @NancyPelosi and @SenSchumer denounce Pres Trump for his "brazen insults and denigration" today of Germany. They call it "an embarrassment." In Brussels today, @POTUS called it "very sad" that Germany made a "massive oil and gas deal with Russia."
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) July 11, 2018