The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit is over, and President Trump has moved on from Brussels to the next leg of his European trip, in Britain. As expected, Trump’s presence made the NATO meetings far more eventful and dramatic than they would otherwise have been. He didn’t pull any punches and made his opinions very clear, often to the shock and horror of those who prefer a less confrontational political style or simply dislike his ideas.
Funding was clearly the president’s priority at the event, diverting attention away from the pre-planned program that emphasized Russian aggression in the region. He complained vocally about the failure of fellow NATO members to pay enough into defense, particularly going for Germany’s jugular, claiming that it not only fails to contribute its fair share, but also that it’s controlled by that mortal enemy of NATO: Russia. No doubt Frau Angela Merkel was deeply insulted, and other leaders, such as French President Macron, became increasingly testy when asked about Trump’s assertions. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, on the other hand, was at pains to emphasize the bond between Europe and the U.S., crediting Trump for the recent increase in funding by member states.
Trump closed the chapter on Twitter, declaring, “Great success today at NATO! Billions of additional dollars paid by members since my election. Great spirit!” So what exactly was achieved at this meeting of allies?
On the Attack for European Funding
Trump’s clear aim for the summit was to extract more defense money from unwilling European governments, particularly Germany and France, who have so far failed to live up their 2014 commitments to spend 2% of national GDP on defense, despite positions as two of the continent’s richest nations. Trump held private meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, both of whom seemed rather annoyed as the summit progressed.
Member states signed a communiqué renewing their vows to achieve the set spending goal by 2024, although Trump no doubt alarmed his European partners by announcing on Twitter that they “Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025” and “that must ultimately go to 4%!” — a number that exceeds even current U.S. defense spending. What would such a massive NATO budget be used for? It seems inevitable that such an increase in military funding and activity across Europe would result in an accelerated arms race with Russia.
Macron tersely responded by telling reporters that the communiqué had recommitted members to 2% of GDP and no more, while Merkel argued that Germany had already begun progress in increasing its defense budget. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg rounded out the summit by backing Trump, telling reporters:
“All Allies have heard President Trump’s message loud and clear. 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. Now, the trend is up. In fact, since President Trump took office, European Allies and Canada have added an additional 41 billion dollars to their defense spending…There is a new sense of urgency due to President Trump’s strong leadership on defense spending.”
Germany, Russia, and Nord Stream 2
Leading up to the summit, the media speculation abounded on whether the president’s upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin was a sign that he would be soft on Russia, a matter Trump deflected by accusing Germany of its own questionable connection with the Russian Bear.
“Germany is totally controlled by Russia,” he said, referring to the Nord Stream pipelines that transport Russian natural gas to Germany. He later tweeted:
Billions of additional dollars are being spent by NATO countries since my visit last year, at my request, but it isn’t nearly enough. U.S. spends too much. Europe’s borders are BAD! Pipeline dollars to Russia are not acceptable!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2018
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline will expand existing transport capabilities and is scheduled for completion in 2019, constructed by Russian company Gazprom. The pipeline bypasses a number of countries that would otherwise profit from energy transport across the continent, by traveling directly from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea. Several parties in the region, have, for various reasons, objected to the pipeline, including the EU, Ukraine, Denmark, the U.S., U.K., and Poland.
Europe as a whole is dependent on Russian energy exports, including crude oil, natural gas, and solid fuels. However, Germany’s willingness to exclude intermediary countries in Eastern Europe has been criticized by the Ukraine, which gets business transporting fuel from Russia by land. Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko called it a “geopolitical project” and a “political bribe” by which Russia may attempt to buy Germany’s loyalty.
Sergei Kalashnikov, first deputy chair of the Russian Federation Council Committee on Economic Policy, suggested that Trump’s criticism was related to U.S. economic interests rather than security concerns. He told Russian outlet Sputnik that:
“It’s pretty clear for everyone that at the core of [Trump’s] statement lie the commercial interests of American businesses… The U.S. is trying to palm its own liquefied gas — which is far more expensive than Russian natural gas — off on Germany and Europe in general.”
What Else Happened?
While Trump managed to stir the pot and get most of the press coverage for the event, a few other matters were decided at the summit, including commitments to:
- Raise the readiness of forces.
- Increase mobility within Europe and across the Atlantic.
- Set up a new cyber operations center.
- Modernize the command structure.
- Boost NATO’s anti-terrorism actions, including an increased presence in Iraq, Jordan, and Tunisia; sustain a presence in Afghanistan through to 2024.
- Increase cooperation with Ukraine and Georgia.
Trump may have dropped a few bombshells and generated a flurry of short-term controversy during his visit to Brussels, but has the projected course of NATO really changed? Relations between the U.S. and Germany certainly deteriorated during the summit, but they could hardly be called enemies, even now. Increased funding will likely continue to trickle in from various countries, and Russia is still the bad guy.