(CNSNews.com) – On the eve of NATO’s annual summit, secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg reported that all 29 alliance members are increasing their military spending, adding that President Trump’s “leadership” on the issue “is clearly having an impact.”
But even as Stoltenberg painted an optimistic picture of the situation, Trump continued to keep up the pressure, with a series of tweets highlighting his view that U.S. taxpayers pay too much, and Europeans too little, on defense.
In the tweets, some of them posted as the president was flying to Brussels, he also linked concerns about NATO defense spending with differences over trade.
“The European Union makes it impossible for our farmers and workers and companies to do business in Europe (U.S. has a $151 Billion trade deficit), and then they want us to happily defend them through NATO, and nicely pay for it. Just doesn’t work!” read one.
“NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair!”
Trump also noted that many NATO members have yet to meet their commitments on defense spending.
“Many countries in NATO, which we are expected to defend, are not only short of their current commitment of 2% (which is low), but are also delinquent for many years in payments that have not been made. Will they reimburse the U.S.?”
In 2014, alliance members undertook to ensure that their defense spending amounts to at least two percent of their national GDP, by 2024. At the time, just three members – the U.S., Britain and Greece – met the benchmark.
Estimates for 2018 released in Brussels on Tuesday showed that the number expected to do so by the end of this year has risen to eight. The original three are joined by Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.
The United States leads by a significant margin, with estimated 2018 defense spending at 3.50 percent of GDP (down from 3.77 percent in 2014).
Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and long the target of Trump’s criticism over defense spending, stands at 1.24 percent of GDP (up from 1.18 percent in 2014).
U.N. Security Council permanent member France is closer to the target, at 1.81 percent. Other allies’ military spending ranges from 1.68 percent for Turkey to 0.55 percent for Luxembourg.
At a press briefing, Stoltenberg called the new figures “encouraging.”
“Last year saw the biggest increase in a generation, and this year will be the fourth consecutive year of real increases.”
“I would like to thank President Trump for his leadership on defense spending,” he said. “It is clearly having an impact.”
In response to a question, Stoltenberg acknowledged that “the burden sharing in the alliance is not fair.”
“That’s exactly why European allies and Canada are stepping up, the biggest increase in defense spending last year, since the end of the Cold War.”
A German reporter pointed to Stoltenberg’s praise for Trump’s leadership, and asked whether he was concerned that the way Trump communicates with other allies may have an adverse effect on unity, and “alienate” their populations.
The secretary-general, a former Norwegian prime minister, argued that European and Canadian allies should increase their defense spending not just because that “improves burden sharing, which is a good thing,” but also because it is in their own security interests to do so.
“The reason to invest is not to please [the] United States; the reason to invest more in defense is because it’s needed, because we live in a more unpredictable world.”
Stoltenberg also said that while “the U.S. presence in Europe is of course good for European security,” a strong NATO is also good for the United States.
He recalled that the only time NATO invoked article five of the North Atlantic Treaty – which states that that an attack on any member is considered an attack on all – was in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“Hundreds of thousands of European soldiers and Canadian soldiers have served alongside US soldiers in Afghanistan,” he said. “Allies have stood with the United States on battlefields from Korea to Afghanistan.”
Stoltenberg expressed the hope that the summit on Wednesday and Thursday “can show that unity, resolve, solidarity in NATO is in the interest both of America, North America, and Europe.”
‘We don’t want a new Cold War’
NATO’s troubled relationship with Russia also came up at the briefing. Trump is scheduled to hold a summit with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.
Stoltenberg said it was right that Trump meets with the Russian leader, noting that several other NATO leaders have done so too.
“That’s fully in line with NATO policies. NATO believes in what we call the dual track approach to Russia, combining defense with dialogue,” he said.
“We don’t want a new Cold War. We don’t want a new arms race. Russia is our neighbor. Russia is here to stay. And we need dialogue with Russia on many different levels, to strive for a better relationship with Russia.”
At the same time, he said, it was important that NATO remain united on how to deal with Russia, and so he welcomed the opportunity to discuss NATO-Russia relations with Trump in Brussels, ahead of his summit with Putin.