President Trump is telling NATO allies they must pick up more of the costs for defense of the alliance, ratcheting up tensions as he prepares to join Western leaders at a summit in Brussels next week.
In letters sent last month to the leaders of allies from Canada to Germany, Trump echoed long-standing complaints that other countries are not spending enough on defense and that the U.S. is bearing too much of NATO’s load.
In a letter dated June 19 to Norway Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Trump wrote that her country “lacks a credible plan” to spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense.
“I understand domestic political pressure, as I myself have expended considerable political capital to increase our own defense spending,” Trump wrote in the letter which was posted on the web site of the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank devoted to the U.S.-Europe alliance.
“It will, however, become increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries continue to fail to meet our shared collective security requirements.”
While Trump has publicly urged NATO countries before to pay more for defense, the individual letters to countries weeks before the July 11-12 NATO summit in Brussels could set the stage for tensions.
Some recipients said they did not appreciate Trump’s message, and that they are working to meet pledges they made at a NATO summit in 2014.
“I am not very impressed by this type of letter,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters last week on the sidelines of a European Union meeting. “Belgium has halted the systematic fall in defense spending and takes part in a lot of military operations.”
Last month, Canadian officials made public a letter from Trump to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying that “the United States is increasingly unwilling to ignore this Alliance’s failure to meet shared security challenges.”
Officials in Canada, which is spending 1.29% of its GDP on defense according to a NATO report in March, said Ottawa is increasing such spending as part of a decade-long budget plan.
Trump’s letters, combined with his past criticisms, indicate that “his commitment to NATO is not what it has been,” said Jorge Benitez, senior fellow with the Atlantic Council. “Trump is doing this in a much more toxic context.”
A meeting that Trump is planning with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 is adding to tensions with NATO allies.
Putin has criticized what he calls NATO’s encroachment into Russian spheres of influence, while NATO has backed economic sanctions on Putin’s government over its seizure of the Crimea region from Ukraine.
Last year at the NATO summit, Trump argued with allies about defense spending levels. Last month at the G-7 summit in Canada, Trump argued again with allies, that time over trade rules.
In the run-up to next week’s NATO summit, some foreign policy analysts fear a rerun that could further undermine the alliance as it seeks to confront Russian expansionism, among other threats.
Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted that NATO allies should pay more for defense, “but threats of US doing less or rethinking NATO tie is not the way to bring it about. Much better to focus on threats in area (Russia) and those outside (especially in Middle East and North Africa).”
Source: USA Today