BRUSSELS ― NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has made a last-ditch effort on the eve of the alliance’s summit to appease U.S. President Trump on defense spending, crediting him with boosting military expenditures by more member states.
“I would like to thank President Trump for his leadership on defense spending,” Stoltenberg said during a news conference at NATO headquarters. “It is clearly having an impact.”
The former Norwegian prime minister was referring to a trend of all members increasing their defense spending in recent years. Canada and the alliance’s European members are on track to spend an additional $266 billion by 2024, all based on Trump’s initiative, Stoltenberg said.
In addition, eight member states are expected to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product this year, compared to only three members in 2014, when all NATO countries agreed to move toward that objective by 2024, he added.
The July 11-12 summit in Brussels will determine whether Stoltenberg’s organization can project unity, or if Trump’s rhetoric of NATO ripping off the United States will widen an internal rift.
Stoltenberg’s strategy of lavishing praise on Trump is one that many in Europe believe has the greatest chance of averting a diplomatic disaster. Some leaders from NATO member nations fear another public reprimand by Trump over defense spending would embolden Russia.
And such a scenario appears likely, as Trump railed against the defense-spending mismatch between the United States and the rest of the alliance Tuesday morning. “NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS,” he tweeted. “Very Unfair!”
Trump is expected to arrive in Brussels Tuesday evening, just as many here will enjoy a brief reprieve from the diplomatic troubles that may come tomorrow: Belgium plays neighbor France in the semifinals of the soccer World Cup in Russia.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.