President Donald J. Trump appeared to have met his key objectives for the Brussels NATO summit Thursday, revealing that alliance members would “substantially” increase their commitments, and much faster than previously planned.
The comments came at a surprise press conference called after an emergency session of NATO ally leaders Thursday morning. The meeting had begun as a planned multilateral discussion between NATO, Georgia, and Ukraine, but Trump’s insistence on discussing the poor state of defence funding among the majority of members led to alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg declaring the meeting an “emergency session”.
Foreign leaders including those of Ukraine, Georgia, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had to leave the room, which was then restricted to the most senior leaders of NATO member nations.
Speaking after the conclusion of the meeting, President Trump said that while he had expressed to his fellow world leaders that he was “extremely unhappy”, he hailed them for having agreed to “substantially up their commitment”.
The President said: “We’ve accomplished a lot with respect to NATO… everyone has agreed to substantially up their commitment, they are going to up it to levels they never thought of before.”
Reassuring his allies among rumours that he had threatened to pull the United States out of NATO if its allies did not immediately commence work to greater share the burden of mutual defence, President Trump said: “The United States commitment to NATO is very strong, remains very strong. Primarily because of the spirit everyone has, the additional money they will be putting up, has been really amazing. To see the level of spirit in that room, is incredible.”
When the question of the U.S. remaining in NATO was put to the President by a journalist, he replied that there was “no problem”, and that while he could, in theory, pull the nation out of the alliance, he would not have to because the other nations were “stepping up… there was a great collegiate spirit in that room, like I don’t think they’ve had in many years, they are very unified, very strong.”
Despite journalists pressing the President on the responses of individual NATO members to his call for higher spending, Trump did not mention any specifics. France’s President Emmanuel Macron spoke out after the meeting, denying that nations had agreed to spend more than already agreed — stating “It confirms the goal of 2 percent by 2024. That’s all”, reports the Associated Press.
If Macron’s statement is taken at face value, it means that some nations including Germany would have agreed to spend more, and sooner, given they were until this week on track to miss by several years the 2024 NATO target for two per cent.
The President’s comments — and the apparent agreement of NATO allies to finally meet their alliance commitments and pay two per cent of their GDP towards defence — come after months of campaigning by Trump, who made addressing the lopsided nature of NATO part of his election campaign.
On Wednesday, the President said that far from hitting the two per cent minimum all NATO members had agreed in 2014 to pay to defence, they should actually be working towards four per cent. This would mean some key NATO allies such as Germany would have to more than treble their defence budgets.
Doubling down on those comments in his surprise press conference, President Trump said once the nations had hit the minimum, he would be pressing for more. He said: “They are spending at a much faster clip, they are heading to two per cent… they are going back [to their parliaments] to get approval, which they will get, to get to two per cent. After that, we’ll start talking about going higher. Ultimately in years, we should be at four per cent.”