- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 27, 2019

President Trump’s hard-charging, blunt approach to dealing with NATO has paid dividends and led nations to ramp up their defense spending, the organization’s leader said Sunday, crediting the president with spurring major changes that have strengthened the alliance.

In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said alliance members have heard Mr. Trump “loud and clear” and are following through on his demands. Mr. Stoltenberg also rejected the notion that Mr. Trump isn’t committed to the transatlantic partnership — a declaration that comes just days after the U.S. House voted overwhelmingly to reiterate its support for NATO in a move widely seen as pushback against the president’s harsh rhetoric.

“Now we see the results,” Mr. Stoltenberg said of Mr. Trump’s approach to NATO.

“By the end of the next year, NATO allies will add 100 billion extra U.S. dollars for defense. So we see some real money and some real results and we see the clear message from President Trump is having an impact,” Mr. Stoltenberg continued. “NATO allies have heard the president loud and clear. NATO allies are stepping up.”

Throughout his 2016 campaign and since becoming president, Mr. Trump often has berated NATO nations for not spending enough on defense and instead relying on U.S. personnel and money for protection. The president carried that message directly to NATO members last summer during a meeting in Brussels, blasting member countries for falling short on their pledge to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense each year.

While some European leaders disputed that Mr. Trump had personally convinced them to raise their defense budgets, Mr. Stoltenberg made clear Sunday that the president’s message was one NATO members needed to hear.

“What he’s doing is to help us adapt the alliance, which we need,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

Mr. Trump quickly seized on the remarks, arguing that European defense budgets wouldn’t be increasing with his continued prodding.

“Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, just stated that because of me NATO has been able to raise far more money than ever before from its members after many years of decline,” the president tweeted. “It’s called burden-sharing.”

The president also insisted the Western military alliance was “more united,” although Democrats and the “fake news like to portray the opposite.”

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that several times last year the president privately discussed withdrawing from the alliance and had grown frustrated with what he viewed as continued freeloading and dependence on the U.S. Despite Mr. Trump’s complaints, the Pentagon in recent years has routinely increased the amount of money it spends on European defense.

In his interview Sunday, Mr. Stoltenberg focused not on Mr. Trump’s words but on American actions, saying the alliance is stronger than ever and that potential foes — especially Russia — know the U.S. remains committed to NATO.
“This is a clear message to Russia and I think they see that,” he said.

Last week, the House passed a measure supporting NATO by a vote of 357 to 22.

Democratic leaders in the chamber rejected the idea that NATO is a financial burden to the U.S. with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel taking issue with Mr. Trump and arguing that the alliance has been of great benefit to America in Afghanistan and a host of other global trouble spots.

“You know what a burden would be?” the New York Democrat said after the House vote. “A burden would be for the United States to try and conduct foreign policy without allies, without 28 other countries that share our values and have fought alongside American troops, sharing the burden of lost blood and treasure at times.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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