President Donald Trump lambasted members of the NATO alliance for failing to hit the alliance’s defense spending targets, accusing some nations of taking advantage of the U.S. a day ahead of NATO ministerial talks, VOA reported.
Foreign ministers from NATO’s 29 member countries are expected to gather in Washington starting on Wednesday for a two-day meeting in honour of the alliance’s 70th anniversary.
Prior to the gathering, the President welcomed NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House.
“We are protecting countries that have taken advantage of the United States,” Trump said. “The United States pays for a disproportionate share of NATO,” Trump said, adding: “We just want fairness.”
Trump specifically attacked Germany, which recently announced plans to increase defence spending to 1.25 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 2023 – a revision of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pledge last year to hit 1.5 per cent by 2024.
NATO members have all pledged to hit a defence spending target of 2 per cent of GDP. “Germany honestly is not paying their fair share,” the President said, sitting next to Stoltenberg.
“I have great respect for Angela (Merkel) and I have great respect for the country,” Trump said. “I have a great feeling for Germany, but they are not paying what they are supposed to be paying.”
Stoltenberg thanked Trump for his “strong commitment to NATO, to our alliances and to our trans-Atlantic bond, and especially … strong leadership on burden-sharing.”
Stoltenberg said that since Trump came to office, NATO member states’ spending on defence was on the rise. Trump has at times expressed his doubts about the NATO alliance – in particular its mutual defence clause, which stipulates that an attack against one NATO ally will be regarded as an attack against all.
A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the ministers’ meeting, insisted NATO “remains strong and unified” but said there will be an “honest discussion on burden sharing.” At present, only seven NATO members meet the 2-per-cent target that the alliance agreed to in 2014.
Some critics say the amount of money a nation spends is not the correct metric for NATO, as it says little about combat readiness or effectiveness.
The U.S. official told reporters that the ministerial talks will also focus on Afghanistan and emerging Russian threats to the alliance.
“All elements of the Russian threat are to be discussed,” the State Department official said, listing concerns ranging from Moscow’s military interventions in Ukraine and Georgia, to election interference and the nerve agent attack on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Britain last year.
More recently, the United States has been irritated by Moscow’s support for Venezuela. Regarding troop levels in Afghanistan, the official indicated that a peace process was ongoing and that any reduction in military presence in that country would likely depend on the outcome of the negotiations.
The official also repeated warnings to NATO member Turkey not to purchase the Russian S-400 air defence system, saying such a move risks not only removing Ankara from the F-35 stealth fighter jet programme, but also triggering sanctions.
This week, the Pentagon stopped the delivery of F-35-related materials to Turkey and announced it was developing alternatives in case Turkey was removed from the supply chain of the advanced jet. Trump’s key NATO focus, however, has been financial, as he rails against nations that fail to meet the target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence.
Stoltenberg is set to address Congress on Wednesday before the ministerial kicks off in the evening and extends into the next day.