- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2018

President Trump’s bare-knuckles diplomacy agitated NATO allies, but he said it paid off.

After two tumultuous days at the NATO summit in Brussels, Mr. Trump emerged claiming allies bowed to his demand that they substantially increase defense spending, relieving some of the burden on the U.S. to prop up the military alliance.

NATO allies committed to an additional $33 billion in defense spending this year, he said.

Several European leaders balked at his claim.

“I told people that I would be very unhappy if they didn’t up their commitments very substantially, because the United States has been paying a tremendous amount,” the president said at a hastily arranged press conference at the close of the summit.

“Now people are going to start — and countries are going to start upping their commitments,” he said. “And now we’re very happy and have a very, very powerful, very, very strong NATO — much stronger than it was two days ago.”

Mr. Trump declared that the U.S. remained committed to the military alliance.

The summit concluded Thursday with an emergency meeting to address burden sharing.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that member countries committed to increase defense spending.

“We understand that this American president is very serious about defense spending. And this is having a clear impact,” he said. “So we are stepping up as never before, allowing U.S. spending to go down.”

Since the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump has railed against NATO allies for not paying their fair share.

The 29 NATO member countries agreed in 2014 to each spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense by 2024. Last year, according to NATO data, just six countries — the U.S., Britain, Greece, Estonia, Romania and Poland — were meeting that goal. Just two more — Latvia and Lithuania — are expected to do so this year.

The U.S. spends about 3.6 percent of GDP on defense.

Mr. Trump said the U.S. contribution by some accounts totals 90 percent of NATO funding, but NATO pegs the level at about 67 percent.

At the summit, Mr. Trump called for NATO members to spend 2 percent immediately and gradually increase commitments to 4 percent of GDP.

The leaders of Germany, France and Italy disagreed with Mr. Trump’s characterization of the summit’s outcome. They said they had not changed plans for military spending but were open to discussing future increases.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the summit “very intense.”

Mr. Trump targeted the chancellor for her wealthy country’s weak military budget and for signing a gas pipeline deal with Russia that he said made Germany “totally controlled by Russia.”

He said it was outrageous that Germany was spending billions of dollars on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, becoming energy-dependent on Russia and skimping on defense spending while asking the U.S. to defend Germany from Russia.

At the end of the summit, Ms. Merkel said her country was on a path to increased defense spending, and “this is in our interest and that it reinforces us mutually.”

Germany, the wealthiest country in Europe, spent 1.35 percent of GDP on defense last year and committed to 1.5 percent by 2024.

French President Emmanuel Macron rejected Mr. Trump’s claims, saying there was no commitment to increase spending beyond what was in a joint declaration by NATO members.

“It confirms the goal of 2 percent by 2024. That’s all,” he told reporters in Brussels.

France spent 1.9 percent of GDP on defense last year and is on track to reach the 2 percent goal, according to NATO data.

Asked about reports that he threatened to quit NATO, he said he had the authority to do it without the approval of Congress but that it was unnecessary.

“This was a fantastic two days. It all came together at the end,” said Mr. Trump. “There is a great, great spirit leaving that room.”

On that note, Mr. Trump embarked on a visit to Britain before a summit Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

Critics accused Mr. Trump of weakening the alliance and sowing divisions that would empower Russia.

Christopher Swift, a national security scholar at Georgetown University, said the NATO summit did not improve Mr. Trump’s hand ahead of the meeting with Mr. Putin.

“The problem is with Putin we don’t have very many interests in common but we are being accommodating and at NATO we have a lot of interests in common but we are not being accommodating,” he said. “The people we are pushing the hardest are the people with whom we have the greatest alignment of interests.”

At the press conference, Mr. Trump said he did not consider Mr. Putin a friend or an enemy, but a competitor.

He scoffed at the suggestion that his NATO performance helped Mr. Putin.

“If you consider putting up tremendously [more] additional funds at a level that nobody’s ever seen before, I don’t think that’s helping Russia,” said Mr. Trump.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Trump’s performance in Brussels was disappointing but not surprising.

He called on Mr. Trump to stop showing deference to Mr. Putin and to be “strong and tough” as the leader of the free world.

“Putin is not America’s friend, nor merely a competitor. Putin is America’s enemy — not because we wish it so, but because he has chosen to be,” Mr. McCain said. “It is up to President Trump to hold Putin accountable for his actions during the meeting in Helsinki. Failure to do so would be a serious indictment of his stewardship of American leadership in the world.”

The president’s interactions with Mr. Putin in Helsinki will be closely scrutinized by political opponents in the U.S. who accuse him of conspiring with Moscow to rig the 2016 presidential election and by Europeans who fear a weakening of NATO’s deterrence.

The president is expected to confront Mr. Putin on election meddling, the annexation of Crimea and wars in Syria and Ukraine. But Mr. Putin is not likely to give ground on any front.

Deterring Russian aggression topped the agenda at the NATO summit, although Mr. Trump’s focus on sharing the defense burden overshadowed the gathering at the alliance’s new headquarters in Brussels.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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