The leaders of NATO held an emergency session Thursday as U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to upend the alliance over what he perceives as European nations freeloading off U.S. military spending.
Trump claimed victory after the talks, stressing European commitments to bolster their own defense budgets but providing no details about any changes to existing agreements on spending. French President Emmanuel Macron later disputed that allies had agreed to change their defense spending.
“I told people that I’d be very unhappy if they did not up their commitments very substantially,” Trump said, adding he hoped to eventually get allies to increase their spending to 4 percent of gross domestic product. He told reporters that he still believes he can withdraw the United States from NATO, but that he thought such a move would be unnecessary.
Trump spent the two-day summit blasting allies, including going after Germany for a planned gas pipeline with Russia, declaring Berlin was “totally controlled by Russia” and prompting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to push back by pointing at her own experience as a youth in communist East Germany during the Cold War.
European allies have openly questioned the U.S. commitment to NATO and worried about Trump’s own dealings with Russia as he prepares to sit down with President Vladimir Putin on Monday in Helsinki.
Trump’s remarks continue a showdown with European allies after his refusal to sign on to a routine declaration following a G-7 summit in Canada last month amid ongoing disputes over tariffs and other trade issues.
His first visit to NATO last year left allies feeling uncertain after he removed a passage from a speech that would have explicitly reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend member states from attack (though he later did so), and some have expressed fear that his meeting with Putin directly following this week’s summit could cause him to weaken commitments to former East bloc nations in the alliance.
U.S. leaders have long urged the rest of the alliance to bolster its defense budget. Figures released by NATO ahead of the gathering show just four other members now spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, and several others fall just short.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Trump’s push for more defense spending while also underscoring the importance of the alliance to the United States.
“There is a new sense of urgency due to President Trump’s strong leadership on defense spending,” he said Thursday. “Today, all allies agreed to redouble their efforts. And this will make NATO stronger.”
Europeans weren’t the only ones stressing the importance of the alliance; Congress this week passed a nonbinding resolution, underscoring the U.S. role in NATO. —Anne K. Walters