President Trump is flying into Brussels today ahead of the NATO Summit which is to take place on Wednesday and Thursday. Ahead of the Summit, he has a meeting scheduled with Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary-General.
The last time the pair met was in the White House on May 17. At that point, Trump’s NATO focus was fiscal, as demonstrated in Politico:
“Together we’ve increased and really raised a lot of money from countries that weren’t paying, or weren’t paying a fair share,” Trump said on Thursday. “We have a little ways to go, but many billions of dollars of additional money has been raised.”
Stoltenberg later told the President: “Your leadership on defense spending has really helped to make a difference.”
Trump noted that he thought the alliance should increase the standard to 4 percent.
While there is a civilian support staff for NATO, for the most part the organization’s funding is not handled in the same way as are most other multinational governmental organizations. NATO, ultimately, focuses around a mutual defense treaty, and the overwhelming bulk of the funding is driven by individual countries’ military spending. By having a stronger military, a country’s possible contribution during time of war increases.
President Trump is insistent that other countries increase their spending. Earlier this month he sent letters to NATO heads of state warning them of potential consequences if they do not comply with his expectations. (New York Times)
The source of contention is the perceived difference between Trump and other NATO leaders of how NATO operates. He speaks of “paying a fair share”, as if there were a communal wealth – whether fiscally or in military might – that the United States is bearing the greatest burden in paying. He speaks of other NATO nations “owing massive sums” as if there were a debt involved in any way other than an expectation of the military growth of individual nations. (Reuters) The fact that he is demonstrating a fundamental misunderstanding of the way NATO is funded is irrelevant to the President.
Other NATO allies view their concessions of land for US bases, their regular participation in military and intelligence operations requested by the US and the immediate availability of their countries’ resources as evidence of their commitments.
They view themselves as an alliance of equals, ready to act as required for defense against foreign attacks – in particular, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who has regularly acted against Western Europe both politically and through espionage actions. Trump views the alliance as one of a superior power and its vassals who are not measuring up to expectations.
Particularly in light of recent trade actions, this has NATO allies wondering whether the decades-long alliance will remain. This is particularly worrisome as the dissolution of NATO is highly desired by Putin, and the President has a summit with Putin planned for Sunday and Monday.