On the heels of a visibly awkward visit from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, US President Donald Trump on Saturday said that Germany owed “vast sums of money” to NATO and the US, even though the alliance does not stipulate payments to the US.
His remarks prompted a former US ambassador to NATO to tweet “that’s not how NATO works” and to add that increased European spending on defense was not a “favor (or payment) to the US.”
Trump, who was at his Mar-a-Lago estate over the weekend and spent Saturday morning at Trump International Golf Course, sent two tweets early in the day.
The first denounced “the FAKE NEWS” for what he said was mistaken coverage of a “GREAT” meeting with Merkel.
Trump’s public appearances with Merkel betrayed an awkwardness between the two leaders, including during two widely remarked upon appearances in the White House.
In one, the leaders failed to stage a handshake for cameras in the Oval Office and in another Merkel looked baffled by comments made by Trump during a joint news conference.
Before the visit Trump repeatedly called Merkel’s policies “insane” and a “disaster” for Germany.
Trump’s second tweet accused Germany directly of not paying enough to the security alliance.
In Friday’s joint press conference, Trump expressed “strong support” for NATO, but reiterated his belief that member nations do not contribute a “fair share.”
“Many nations owe vast sums of money from past years and it is very unfair to the United States,” Trump said. “These nations must pay what they owe.”
“During our meeting, I thanked Chancellor Merkel for the German government’s commitment to increase defense spending and work toward contributing at least 2 percent of GDP,” he said.
Trump’s tweets on Saturday suggested a misunderstanding of the way NATO is funded.
According to NATO’s official guidelines, member nations are expected to spend at least 2 percent of their country’s GDP on defense. However, only a handful of the 28 members actually meet that target.
At a 2014 summit in Wales, members pledged to increase their military spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2024, a goal some have said is unachievable and unrealistic for several member states.
Ultimately, members’ contributions are based on each nation’s capability. Therefore, NATO member nations do not “owe” or have to compensate any other country.
On Saturday, former US ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, who served from 2009 to 2013, responded to Trump in a series of tweets.
“Sorry, Mr President, that’s not how NATO works,” he wrote. “The US decides for itself how much it contributes to defending NATO. This is not a financial transaction, where NATO countries pay the US to defend them. It is part of our treaty commitment.
“All NATO countries, including Germany, have committed to spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2024. So far five of 28 NATO countries do. Those who currently don’t spend 2% of their GDP on defense are now increasing their defense budgets. That’s a good thing,” he wrote.
“But no funds will be paid to the US. They are meant to increase NATO’s overall defense capabilities, given the growing Russian threat. Europe must spend more on defense, but not as favor (or payment) to the US. But because their security requires it,” he wrote.
The “large military commitment” of the US to NATO was “not a favor to Europe,” but was “vital for our own security,” Daalder wrote.