US President Donald Trump yesterday took aim at French President Emmanuel Macron over his criticism of NATO, and criticized the other members of the military alliance for being too slow to beef up their defense budgets.
As prime ministers and presidents of the 29-member alliance converged on London to mark NATO’s 70th birthday, Trump told reporters that Macron’s comments were “very, very nasty” when he lamented the “brain death” of the organization due in large part to a lack of US leadership.
“I think that’s insulting to a lot of different forces,” Trump said. “You just can’t go around making statements like that about NATO. It’s very disrespectful.”
During campaigning for the last election, Trump described NATO as “obsolete,” but he has since tempered his criticism somewhat.
Discussing military funding, Trump insisted that “a lot of countries haven’t paid.”
After Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, NATO countries halted their post-Cold War spending cuts and began increasing spending. They pledged to “move toward” spending 2 percent of GDP on their national defense budgets by 2024.
“You could make the case that they’ve been delinquent for 25-30 years,” Trump said after talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
He added that the figure of 2 percent “is a very low number, it really should be 4.”
Stoltenberg, given the unenviable task of trying to hold NATO together as its leaders take pot shots at each other, said that “we’re doing more together, North America and Europe, than we have done in many decades.”
However, he conceded that “we should never question the unity and the political willingness to stand together and to defend each other. The whole purpose of NATO is to preserve peace. It’s to prevent conflict by sending a clear message to any potential adversary that if one ally is attacked it will trigger a response from the whole alliance.”
Macron insisted ahead of the meeting that the endless spending debate should be set aside so that NATO can focus on important strategic questions like who its enemies really are, how to improve ties with Russia and what to do with an unpredictable ally like Turkey.
In turn, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Macron.
The two-day summit was to begin yesterday with receptions at Buckingham Palace and Downing Street. One short working session is to be held at a golf resort in outer London today.
The aim is to issue a joint declaration — if the summit can survive the friendly fire.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday said that his nation is open to cooperation with NATO.
“We have repeatedly expressed readiness to jointly resist real threats including international terrorism, local armed conflicts [and] the danger of uncontrolled proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” Russian news agencies quoted Putin as saying.
Additional reporting by AFP
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