BRUSSELS — U.S. President Donald Trump capped a turbulent morning at the NATO summit’s second day by lavishing thick praise on the alliance, prompted by what he said were member countries' last-minute concessions to quickly increase their defense spending.
Trump’s comments came after news reports emerged that he had indirectly threatened to leave NATO if countries failed to pass larger military budgets. But Washington leaving the alliance over burden-sharing was unnecessary at this time, Trump said later, adding that he still could “probably” do so without the consent of Congress.
Less than an hour before that assertion, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told a crowd of analysts at a summit side event that Trump could do no such thing. “We have your backs,” Tillis told the pro-alliance gathering, stressing that lawmakers would have the last word on a withdrawal decision.
While Trump painted a portrait of himself saving the day during a morning crisis meeting, he made no mention of exactly what concessions he extracted from the allies, even after repeatedly being pressed by reporters.
Shortly after the news conference, The Associated Press reported that French President Emmanuel Macron had denied the claim that any additional spending promises were made at all. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters the question of burden-sharing came up again at today’s meeting of alliance leaders, though she offered no specifics.
During his roughly half-hour news conference, Trump quickly hopped from topic to topic, often careful to throw in examples of where in the world he owns property. That gave the spectacle an almost surreal touch, especially given that many analysts were prepared to hear about something related to NATO’s fate.
“The United States' commitment to NATO is very strong,” Trump told reporters, checking off one of the key boxes that the allied delegations came here for. On spending, he said: “We are doing numbers like they’ve never done before.”
Trump sold the budget figures — whatever they may turn out to be — as his personal victory achieved only after taking NATO members to task. “Yesterday, I let them know that I was extremely unhappy with what was happening,” he said. “They have substantially upped their commitment, and now we are very happy and we have a very, very powerful, very strong NATO — much stronger than it was two days ago.”
The president said additional commitments made by allies, reportedly in the form of an amount somewhere between $33 billion and $40 billion, would put to rest his personal fear that the rest of NATO is taking advantage of the United States. Allied leaders in Brussels spent the last two days trying to dispel that notion.
After exiting the summit, Trump is set to travel to Scotland, where he said he would spend time on his golf course while awaiting meetings with U.K. leaders. After that, he is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
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.