(CNSNews.com) – President Trump said Tuesday night he threatened recently to withdraw the United States from NATO if allied nations did not increase their defense spending – or as he termed it, “pay their bills” – and that it had worked.
Trump told a campaign rally in West Virginia that at a meeting with NATO counterparts – presumably at the leaders’ summit Brussels last month – “I said, ‘Look it’s very simple: You gotta pay up, you gotta pay your bills.’”
The leader of one of the 29 member-states had then asked whether the U.S. would pull out of the transatlantic defense alliance if others did not meet their financial commitments.
“And somebody said, ‘Sir’ – it was a president of a country calling me ‘sir,’ that shows respect. I say, ‘Yes, Mr. President.’ He said, ‘Would you leave us if we don’t pay our bills?’”
“I said, ‘Yeah, I would have to consider it; you gotta pay your bills.’”
(Gesturing towards media representatives, the president said, “They hated my answer.”)
Trump said that if he had assured the allies that the U.S. would continue to provide protection even if they did not meet their commitments, “then they’re never going to pay their bills.”
“So I said, ‘Yes, I will leave you if you don’t pay your bills.’”
“And you could see those checkbooks coming out for billions of dollars,” he continued. “They paid their bills.
Trump said that since he raised the issue last year NATO members have ponied up $44 billion, and he predicted that more than $100 billion dollars would be paid “over the next short while.”
He charged that the “fake news” media had accused him of treating NATO allies’ leaders with “contempt and disrespect.”
“And I said, ‘No, no, no – they disrespected our country because they weren’t paying.’ Now they’re paying.”
Despite media claims that he showed disrespect, he said, “actually I have a great relationship with all of those people, 28 people, all of them.”
And the reason he had a great relationship with them, Trump added, was “because now they respect us. They respect our country again.”
Trump also raised the prospect of a conflict erupting because a NATO member-state came under attack. (Under article five of the North Atlantic Treaty, an attack on any member is considered an attack on all.)
“And now we’re in World War III. And we’re protecting a country that was attacked and didn’t pay its bills. I’d feel so stupid – we’re protecting a country that wasn’t paying its bills! So I got them to pay.”
Although Trump characterizes the issue as NATO members paying or not paying their “bills,” he is referring to the allies’ commitment – made at a summit in 2014 – to ensure that their national defense spending amounts to at least two percent of their GDP, by 2024.
At the time the pledge was made only three members – the U.S., Britain and Greece – were meeting that standard. Since then, Poland and Estonia have reached the two percent mark, and figures released by NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg in July show that they will be joined by Latvia, Lithuania and Romania by the end of the year.
With six years to go, therefore, by the end of 2018 eight of the 29 members will have made the benchmark.
During press conferences at the Brussels summit, Stoltenberg said that since the leaders’ previous meeting a year earlier, NATO’s European members plus Canada had raised their military budgets by an additional $41 billion.
He attributed the increases – which he called variously the biggest “in a generation” and the biggest “since the end of the Cold War” – directly to Trump.
“All allies have heard President Trump’s message loud and clear,” he said. “We understand that this American president is very serious about defense spending. And this is having a clear impact.”
“After years of decline, when allies were cutting billions, now they are adding billions. Before, the trend was down,” he said. “Now, the trend is up.”
The $41 billion cited by Stoltenberg differs from the $44 billion mentioned by Trump. But the NATO chief did say the $41 billion was the total in “constant prices, and that the amount in current prices was “even more.”
He also said that at last year’s summit, allies had agreed to develop “national plans” on raising defense spending.
“I expect all allies to follow-up on their national plans,” he said. “And the national plans are a very powerful tool to make sure that we deliver and that we increase defense spending substantially.”
Several days after the summit, four U.S. senators – two Republicans and two Democrats – introduced legislation that would prevent the president from withdrawing the U.S. from NATO without Senate approval.
“NATO is the most successful military alliance in history, and any effort to abandon it would be a monumental mistake,” said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who joined Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) in the initiative.