Donald Trump has taken the unprecedented step of lecturing world leaders on their chronic failure to pay for their own defence as they gathered in front of him for the unveiling of memorials to NATO’s role in keeping the peace around the world.
The US president broke with diplomatic norms to use his speech at a NATO meeting in Brussels to directly castigate 23 of the 28 members for failing to spend enough on defence, leaving the “taxpayers of the United States” to pick up the tab.
As tributes to NATO’s collective action – made from fragments of the Berlin Wall and the twin towers – were unveiled, Trump mentioned the article 5 commitment of member states to act as one when attacked. However, he largely focused on letting the leaders, and NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, know of his determination to make them pay.
“I have been very very direct with secretary Stoltenberg and members of the alliance in saying NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations.
“But 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defence.
“This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States and many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years. And not paying in those past years.”
Trump, who said the attack in Manchester illustrated the need for greater cooperation on fighting terrorism, also appeared to demand that states who had so far failed to reach the 2% of GDP funding threshold, make additional reparations in the coming years.
“We should recognise that with these chronic underpayments and growing threats even 2% of GDP is insufficient to close the gaps in modernising readiness and the size of forces.
“We have to make up for the many years lost – 2% is the bare minimum for confronting today’s very real and very vicious threats. If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, it would be even stronger than it is today, especially from the threat of terrorism.”
Trump, who was speaking at the opening of the new building for the defence organisation, pointedly added: “I never asked once what the new NATO headquarters costs. I refuse to do that, but it is beautiful.”
NATO leaders later agreed for the organisation to join the international coalition fighting Isis, in a largely symbolic move.
The president’s spokesman Sean Spicer later said the President Trump fully supported Article 5, when asked by reporters why he did not explicitly state his commitment during his speech.
“At the beginning he talked about it being invoked right after 9/11, but second of all the entire ceremony was called an Article 5 dedication,” said Spier. “I think it’s a bit silly because by being here at such a ceremony, we all understand that by being part of NATO we treat the obligations and commitments…by having to reaffirm something by the very nature of being here and speaking at a ceremony about it is almost laughable.”
The speech, which received muted applause, completed a difficult day for the US president who had clashed with EU leaders earlier in the day, and was at one point seen apparently pushing Duško Marković, the prime minister of Montenegro, out of the way to get to the front of the podium.
After a meeting with Trump at the EU’s Europa building, the European council president, Donald Tusk, made a pointed statement that no agreement had been possible over the issues of Russia, climate change and global trade.
Tusk told reporters he hoped the west could unite around shared values but that on a series of key issues, including the manner in which the world should deal with Vladimir Putin’s regime, the two sides were seemingly in opposition.
“We discussed foreign policy, security, climate and trade relations,” Tusk said, after a 45-minute meeting with Trump and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, on Thursday morning.
“My feeling is that we agreed on many areas, first and foremost on counter-terrorism. I’m sure I don’t need to explain why. But some issues remain open, like climate and trade, and I am not 100% sure that we can say today we – means Mr President and myself – have a common position, common opinion, about Russia. Although when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine it seems that we were on the same lines.”
Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, added: “My main message to President Trump was that what gives our cooperation and friendship its deepest meaning are fundamental western values, like freedom, human rights and respect for human dignity. The greatest task today is the consolidation of the whole free world around those values, and not just interests. Values and principles first – this is what we, Europe and America, should be saying.”
The lack of agreement between the US president and the EU on key issues threatens to derail the G7 meeting on Friday and Saturday, where the key issues of trade liberalisation and climate change are top of the agenda. It had been hoped that Trump would have been in a position to commit to the Paris climate change agreement in Italy but the signs from Brussels are that he is yet to make a decision.
The decision by the head of the European council, whose members comprise the 28 EU states, to publicly raise the issue of Russia at a time when the US president is being dogged about his election campaign’s alleged links with Putin’s regime, illustrates the gulf between Washington and Brussels.
The EU is in favour of a strong stance against Russia, including the continuation of sanctions, while Trump has spoken of wanting to come to a “new understanding” with Putin.
Tusk’s comments will inevitably keep the Russia issue in the news at a time when Trump, on his first overseas tour as president, will have hoped for some respite from damaging headlines.
EU sources also revealed that the US president had spoken of his fears for US jobs in the wake of Brexit, a move that could cause Trump some embarrassment given he has previously been an outspoken cheerleader of the UK leaving the EU.
As they stood for photographs before the talks, Juncker and Tusk tried to make light of the EU’s complicated institutional structure to a US president who has been highly critical of the bloc. “You know Mr President we have two presidents in the EU,” Tusk told Trump, who responded: “I know that.” “There’s one too much,” said Juncker, making a joke of his traditional rivalry with Tusk.
Trump then told the pair he had been “to a lot of countries, some great countries” during his tour, and that he had “met a lot of leaders”, to which he added particular praise for the pope. “It was very spectacular. I don’t think there was ever anything like that. That was beyond anything anyone’s seen. We went to the pope. Very impressive. The pope was terrific,” Trump said, according to a pool report.
Asked during a press conference for his impressions of Trump, Juncker quipped: “I hope he hasn’t sent a tweet about me yet.”
Juncker said he discussed many subjects with Trump, including trade and competition. The EU and US agreed to set up discussions on trade because “we felt there was too much divergence” in positions.
After the meeting Trump had a private lunch with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who urged the US not to abandon the Paris climate change agreement. Macron, who engaged in a series of strong handshakes with Trump during the day, described his exchange with Trump as a “frank and warm discussion”.
The French president told reporters he had stressed the importance of the Paris accord. “We have a political responsibility to assume, and we have to think about jobs and economic developments,” he said. “No hasty decision should be taken on this subject by the United States.”
Source: The Guardian