WASHINGTON (CN) – Member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization must do more to generate money for their own defense efforts, President Donald Trump said Tuesday during a White House meeting with the alliance’s secretary general.
The meeting in the Oval Office comes as NATO celebrates its 70th anniversary and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prepares to address Congress on Wednesday for the first time.
Stoltenberg was invited to give the address by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The move is largely perceived on Capitol Hill as a way to smooth over an often fraught public relationship between NATO and Trump.
Since taking office, Trump has regularly complained that NATO members have not pulled their weight in defense spending and as recently as last month, during a meeting with governors, he claimed the alliance “takes advantage” of the United States.
Though Trump still demanded additional military funding from NATO’s 29-nation alliance, he took a slightly more amenable tack by heaping praise on the secretary general during Stoltenberg’s visit to the White House.
“The United States pays for a very big share of NATO, a disproportionate share. But the relationship with NATO has been very good and the relationship with the secretary has been outstanding and I think tremendous progress has been made,” Trump said.
The president, who once threatened to yank the U.S. out of the alliance altogether, also took some credit for increased contributions among member nations.
“When I came, it wasn’t so good. Since I came to office, it’s a rocket ship up,” Trump said of the increases.
Spending by other NATO members, however, has been on an uptick since at least 2014, following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Member nations agreed to increase spending across the board and begin moving toward allocating at least 2% of their gross domestic product growth on defense costs by 2024.
Since 2016, U.S. allies in Canada and Europe have tacked on another $41 billion to NATO’s defense fund. But Germany, a frequent target of the president’s criticism, is not on track to meet the 2% contribution. It is only estimated to spend 1.5% by 2024.
“Germany, honestly, is not paying their fair share,” Trump said Tuesday, before incorrectly stating that his father was born in Germany. Fred Trump was born in New York City in 1905. It was Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump, who was reportedly born in Germany.
“I have great respect for [Chancellor] Angela [Merkel] and I have great respect for the country. My father is German. And born in the very wonderful place in Germany and I have good feelings for Germany but they’re not paying what they should be paying,” he said.
The U.S. has paid up to 3.4% of its GDP on NATO defense.
America is “basically protecting Europe” while at the same time being “taken advantage of on trade,” Trump said.
“So they have the best of both worlds,” he added.
While the president met with Stoltenberg in the White House, a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee met Tuesday afternoon to discuss the future of NATO with Barack Obama’s former national security advisor, retired General James Jones, as well as Evelyn Farkas, former deputy assistant secretary of defense, and Damon Wilson, executive vice president of the think tank Atlantic Council.
The panel unanimously agreed NATO will be as critical moving forward as it was when it was first formed to counter Russian aggression following World War II.
China and Russia are both trying to attain global dominance over the United States, General Jones told the committee, and NATO alliance members must redouble their efforts to invest in diverse and “real war-fighting capabilities” for the years ahead.
“Whether it’s upgrading their systems, planes or ships, if the European Union eventually forms its own unified defense, they can’t pursue the same type of military forces across the board. Smaller NATO countries are already specializing in quite impressive special operations capabilities. They can contribute significantly in their own way, including with electronic warfare,” Jones said.
To maintain the integrity of NATO, promote trust in the United States and encourage other nations to join NATO, Farkas recommended the Trump administration blend its own abrupt, brash style of diplomacy with more delicate methods employed by former President Obama.
“We need a mix of the two,” Farkas said. “Trump is not popular in Europe because of how he’s spoken out against Chancellor Merkel and Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May. He is not seen as being respectful, even though the push for increased assistance to NATO is very consistent with all other presidents before him. He does it in a way that is not just irritating to the leadership, but to the people of a country.”