Under normal circumstances these would be relegated to the category of rumor. After all, single sources are not conclusive, and Axios does not have a history of favoring the President.
It does have a history through the length of the Administration, though, of providing accurate insider information. It has established credibility for its administration reporting. For that reason, the Guardian checked and received confirmation from two government officials who attended the conference. From The Guardian:
Trump berated his six fellow leaders of major industrialised democracies for taking advantage of the US, in trade relations and in defence spending. Of the looming Nato summit, he said: “It will be an interesting summit. Nato is as bad as Nafta. It’s much too costly for the US.”
It is also echoed by a report in the UK Times that EU leaders are being cautioned to prepare for an end to the organization. (Times)
This follows on the 2017 summit where Trump failed to assert dedication to NATO, which was seen as an indication that he might retain some of the aversion to NATO he’d demonstrated on the campaign trail. (Foreign Policy)
Trump’s primary argument against NATO seems to be that the member nations are not contributing the requisite amount of spending to it, per the agreements. That is generally true. Some are, but most are not – 5 out of the 28 are, and even among those who are contributing 2% of their GDP, some have not contributed that amount in prior years. (Business Insider)
The financial burden is not inconsiderable, but as with any spending, the question of relative value comes into play. From the U.S. State Department:
NATO remains the principal security instrument of the transatlantic community and expression of its common democratic values. It is the practical means through which the security of North America and Europe are permanently tied together. NATO enlargement has furthered the U.S. goal of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.
Ignoring for a moment the value of promoting republics and democracies from a human rights perspective, the promotion of “the Western world” over communism, socialism and dictatorships have led to massive expansion of American wealth and personal safety. From a purely fiscal standpoint, NATO has reaped, and continues to reap, rewards far outstripping the spending costs.
This is emphasized when America has attempted to intervene in foreign nations militarily – such as with the destruction of ISIS that the President likes to talk about (enacted in conjunction with NATO allies, which Trump rarely mentions) or when America is attacked, such as during 9/11 (where we were actively defended by NATO allies.) (Independent) (New York Times)
The 9/11 attacks were the first time that the pact was activated in defense, actually, making the U.S. the only direct recipient of the funding poured into the alliance. The other countries have a substantive case for the US covering the entire tab for that reason.
But they don’t make that case. Independent of whether they have directly utilized the defense agreement, the pact’s existence and the corollary benefits it provides are incredibly valuable to every signatory.
Even Fox has weighed in, warning that one of Putin’s goals is the destruction of NATO:
From Trump’s statements, either he disagrees with the relative value of NATO or he is willing, for whatever reason, to ignore the aid that damaging NATO provides to America’s enemies.
As far as Trump’s desires to leave the World Trade Organizaion, that has been declared “fake news” by the White House. From Reuters:
“There’s no breaking news here … it’s not right,” Mnuchin told Fox Business Network, calling the report “fake news.”
“This is an exaggeration,” Mnuchin said. “The president has been clear, with us and with others, he has concerns about the WTO, he thinks there’s aspects of it that are not fair, he thinks that China and others have used it to their own advantage, but we are focused on free trade. That’s what we’re focused on – breaking down barriers.”
But the key element of the Axios report…
“He’s [threatened to withdraw] 100 times. It would totally [screw] us as a country,” said a source who’s discussed the subject with Trump. The source added that Trump has frequently told advisers, “We always get fucked by them [the WTO]. I don’t know why we’re in it. The WTO is designed by the rest of the world to screw the United States.”
…is not being contradicted by Mnuchin, although he and Presidential allies are painting it that way. They are, rather, categorizing it as an “exaggeration”, a contention that could easily be justified by focusing on the “100 times” part of the quote and not the underlying concern.
That would mesh with the President’s prior statements about the WTO (Financial Times).
His key advisors are on record as recognizing the value of the WTO and pointing out that the US wins far more of its cases there than most other countries. At issue here are the Trump tariffs. They demonstrate that Trump does not necessarily care what his advisors say about economics (most of them spent the bulk of their careers decrying tariffs) and, worse, they stand to cost the US dearly with fines leveled by the WTO because of unfair trade practices… a rare instance where the US has knowingly violated standards of international trade.
All of this leads to concerns that the United States is moving toward isolationism from allies as its dominant foreign policy even as we seek to engage with declared enemies.