President Donald Trump’s behavior led to a tense and awkward summit between leaders of NATO member countries, as he criticized top U.S. allies like Germany and issued an out-of-the-blue demand that other NATO countries further increase their military spending.
Trump started the day bashing Germany, which he said is, “totally controlled by Russia.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel fired back at Trump’s accusation with a pithy comment.
“I myself experienced that a part of Germany that was controlled by the Soviet Union, and I am very happy today that we are united in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany,” Merkel told reporters, according to the Washington Post. “We decide our own policies and make our own decisions.”
French President Emmanuel Macron also publicly disagreed with Trump’s comment. When asked whether Macron thought that Merkel was “beholden to the Russians,” he replied with a simple, “no.”
Later, Trump continued to upend the summit by demanding that NATO countries increase their defense spending to 4% of GDP — a level greater than the U.S. currently contributes.
“During the president’s remarks today at the NATO summit, he suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2% of their G.D.P. on defense spending, but that they increase it to 4%,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement to reporters. “President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden, and at a very minimum meet their already stated obligations.”
Ultimately, the NATO leaders — including Trump — signed an agreement that NATO member countries would spend at least 2% of GDP on defense spending by 2024. This is the same percentage NATO countries agreed to back in 2014 — though Trump has widely criticized NATO countries for not meeting the 2% threshold, even though the deadline is six years away.
Trump aides tried to portray a message of NATO unity, as a fractured and weakened alliance is exactly what Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks.
“NATO is the most successful alliance in history. All #NATO allies have committed to extending this success through increased defense spending, deterrence and defense, and fighting terrorism. Weakness provokes; strength and cohesion protects. This remains our bedrock belief,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Wednesday morning.
Yet Trump did not seem to get that message.
“What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?” Trump tweeted after his meeting with Merkel. “Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025.”