President Trump meets at the White House Wednesday with the secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg.
Afterward, the two men will take questions from reporters, which are likely to center on the administration’s commitment to the North Atlantic alliance as well as last week’s deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Administration officials have tried to reassure NATO allies that the United States remains “unwavering” in its commitment to their defense, even though Trump repeatedly questioned the relevance of the alliance during the campaign. He’s also complained about countries that don’t spend enough on their own defense, and suggested the U.S. would review those payments before deciding whether to come to an ally’s aid.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised the issue of defense spending late last month at a NATO meeting in Brussels.
“As President Trump has made clear,” Tillerson said, “it is no longer sustainable for the U.S. to maintain a disproportionate share of NATO’s defense expenditures.”
Each NATO country has pledged to spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its own defense by 2024. Only a handful of alliance members meet that target now. U.S. defense spending accounts for somewhat over 3 percent of its GDP. Germany spends only about 1.2 percent of its GDP on its defense.
After a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in March, Trump complained that “Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”
NATO’s secretary general says defense spending is just part of the picture, though.
“We need many different tools to stabilize our neighborhood,” Jens Stoltenberg said last month. “It’s not either development or security. It’s development and security.”
Trump’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year would boost U.S. military spending by 10 percent, while making deep cuts in development and foreign aid.
Likewise, Trump wants to cut by half the number of refugees the U.S. takes in. He’s criticized Merkel for Germany’s welcoming attitude towards refugees.
For all his questions about NATO, Trump looks forward to adding a new member to the alliance. The tiny Balkan nation of Montenegro has been approved to join NATO and is expected to take part in an alliance meeting next month.
Russia opposes any such NATO expansion. But the Trump administration — which previously pushed for improved ties with Russia — has been cooler towards Moscow since last week’s chemical weapons attack allegedly carried out by Russia’s longtime ally, Syria.
“It’s no question that Russia is isolated,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday. “They have aligned themselves with North Korea, Syria, Iran. That’s not exactly a group of countries that you’re looking to hang out with.”
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