US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday NATO countries must immediately pay 2 percent of their country's economic output for defense, tying the issue to trade and energy in a Twitter post as he attended the alliance’s summit in Brussels.
Trump earlier told alliance leaders they should raise their defense spending to 4 percent of their gross domestic product, or GDP.
“What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?" Trump wrote.
“The US is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025,” he added.
Germany invested 1.24 percent of its GDP in 2017 and estimated to do the same in 2018. While Germany's spending is
increasing, it will not reach the target by 2024, instead expecting to boost spending to 1.5 percent by 2025.
While US defense spending makes up 70 percent of combined allied governments’ military budgets, just 15 percent of USexpenditure is spent in Europe on NATO-related defense.
President Trump accused Germany of being a “captive” of Russia on Wednesday in a startling outburst against one of Europe’s main military.
Trump told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that Germany was wrong to support a new $11-billion Baltic Sea pipeline to import Russian gas while being slow to meet targets for NATO spending to protect against Russia.
“We’re supposed to be guarding against Russia and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia,” Trump said in the presence of reporters at a pre-summit meeting at the residence of the US ambassador to Belgium.
Trump, who later arrived in his presidential limousine at NATO’s new billion-dollar headquarters, appeared to substantially overstate German reliance on Russian energy and to imply the German government was funding the pipeline, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel says is a commercial venture.
Merkel hit back at Trump’s remark that “Germany is totally controlled by Russia” through gas imports by contrasting her own experience of growing up in Soviet-controlled East Germany with the sovereign, united Germany now playing a major role in NATO.
Trump and Merkel later held what seemed businesslike talks on the sidelines. Trump said he had a “very, very good relationship” with Merkel, who described the two as “good partners”.
With tensions in the Western alliance smoldering over Trump’s trade tariffs on European steel and his demands for more contributions to ease the burden on US taxpayers, his latest remarks fueled concerns among allies for the US role in keeping the peace that has reigned since World War Two.
Baltic leaders fearful of any repeat of Russia’s annexation of Crimea called for unity as they arrived at the summit, while Slovak President Andre Kiska said his country was “one of the good guys” because he was increasing defense spending.
Those comments underscored the risks to Trump’s strategy by dividing allies between those who spend more on defense and those who do not, such as Belgium, Spain, Italy and Luxembourg, but who contribute with troops to NATO missions.
Showdown with Merkel?
Trump, who allies hope will sign off on a summit deal to step up the West’s deterrence of Russia, will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.
NATO’s Stoltenberg later told reporters that Trump had used “very direct language” but that all NATO allies were agreed that the cost of defense spending must be spread around and that last year had seen the biggest increase in a generation.
After joking that his breakfast with Trump at the US ambassador’s residence had been paid for by the United States, the NATO chief was frank about the impact of Trump’s criticism on the Western allies at a broader level.
“There are disagreements on trade. This is serious. My task is to try to minimize the negative impact on NATO,” he said.
“So far it hasn’t impacted on NATO that much. I cannot guarantee that that will not be the case in the future. The transatlantic bond is not one, there are many ties, some of them have been weakened.”
By slapping higher tariffs on European Union metals exports and threatening more on cars, Trump has shown his anger at the US trade deficit with the EU.
“Dependence” on Russia
Trump said that Germany’s closure of coal and nuclear power plants on environmental grounds had increased its dependence, like much of the rest of Europe, on Russian gas.
“We’re protecting Germany, we’re protecting France, we’re protecting all of these countries. And then numerous of the countries go out and make a pipeline deal with Russia where they’re paying billions of dollars into the coffers of Russia,” he said. “I think that’s very inappropriate.”
Merkel has given political backing to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, despite criticism from other EU governments.
Trump said: “If you look at it, Germany is a captive of Russia. They got rid of their coal plants, they got rid of their nuclear, they’re getting so much of their oil and gas from Russia. I think it is something NATO has to look at.”
However, his comment that “Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they are getting 60 to 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline” seemed to misstate German energy use - about 20 percent of which is accounted for by oil and gas imports from Russia.