In a sharply worded message to at least some countries in the 29-member alliance that didn’t meet defense spending thresholds — one that followed a general template but included additional language tailored to specific countries — Trump wrote that Americans were tired of funding Europe’s defense and wanted to see other NATO members carrying more of the load.
Though it’s not uncommon for U.S. administrations to push allies on burden-sharing, the letter — its tone and its timing — underscored the precariousness of international parleys in the Trump era. NATO summits are usually choreographed affairs, with shoulder-to-shoulder photo-ops and boilerplate communiques.
The coming meeting, starting July 11 and featuring the leaders of all NATO countries, could be a fiasco thanks to Trump’s unpredictable and brash behavior. The meeting will feature announcements on some policy breakthroughs: a new NATO program in Iraq to train Iraqi security forces, a joint initiative with the European Union to increase “military mobility” for allied forces moving around within Europe, the opening of two new command structures — one focused on maritime issues in Norfolk, Virginia, and one on logistics in Germany, and the possible launching of talks with Macedonia to join the alliance.
And then, of course, a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When asked for comment, the State Department referred all questions to the White House, but a spokesman there did not immediately respond to queries.
Trump roiled the NATO summit last year with his refusal to endorse the alliance’s collective defense clause and the shove he gave Montenegro’s leader at a photo-op. The issue of defense spending could be this year’s main source of contention.
At the beginning of this year, eight of the 29 members either met or were nearing the 2 percent target: the United States, United Kingdom, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, and Greece. Six others — Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Montenegro, Slovakia, and Turkey — have unveiled plans to reach the target by 2024. Two, Norway and Denmark, may not meet the 2 percent threshold by 2024 but have plans to significantly boost defense spending. That leaves the majority of NATO allies without plans to meet the spending target, including Germany, Europe’s strongest economy.
“There’s a lot of good news about the alliance, but there’s dangers that will all get eclipsed by Trump’s recriminations on 2 percent,” Alexander Vershbow, a scholar at the Atlantic Council and former deputy secretary-general of NATO, said.
“I don’t think anybody would be dumb enough to predict what would happen,” said one NATO official based in Brussels. “I’m hopeful [the summit] will go smoothly in that he’ll only make a few obnoxious remarks.”
For more: Foreign Policy