US President Donald J Trump, who’s been stirring up uncertainty among NATO allies including Norway since before he took office, reportedly created even more drama at last month’s brief NATO summit in Brussels. During dinner with his fellow government leaders, he reportedly suggested that European and Canadian defense spending should be boosted by another 50 percent.
Oslo newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), citing confidential sources, reported Wednesday that Trump stunned his NATO colleagues once again. At their dinner in Brussels, which was closed to media coverage, Trump suggested that the NATO members’ defense spending goal agreed at their Wales summit in 2014 still wasn’t enough.
The goal calls on NATO members to boost their defense spending to at least 2 percent of gross national product (GNP) by 2024. That already will involve huge defense budget increases for many countries including Germany. Norway’s defense spending, which has been rising, is currently at around 1.5 percent while its actual budget is greater than ever before. Only a few NATO members already meet the 2 percent goal.
Trump on the offensive
Now Trump, who’s been complaining like his predecessors did that the US bears too much of the defense spending burden, doesn’t seem satisfied with the 2 percent goal. DN reported that Trump, who often speaks without notes or a prepared manuscript, told his companions at the dinner table that if 2 percent proves to be too little, “3 percent should be a minimum.” That would force NATO members to boost spending by another 50 percent before they’ve even reached the 2 percent level.
Trump reportedly also threatened to reduce the US military presence in Europe, and he said he was evaluating whether to send a bill to all the other NATO allies to cover all the years when they, in his opinion, paid too little into NATO’s coffers. DN wrote that the magazine Foreign Policy also had obtained confirmation of that.
US diplomats reportedly have tried to smooth ruffled feathers among NATO allies and clarify mixed signals by urging them to see what the US is doing as opposed to what Trump says. Reports of his threats to pull out US troops and equipment now stationed, for example, in the Baltic countries and in Norway further confuses and hinders such US diplomatic efforts at what amounts to controlling the damage Trump tends to cause abroad.
No comment from Solberg
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who was among those at the NATO dinner in Brussels on May 25, refused to confirm Trump’s reported statements. “We don’t comment on what’s said at a closed meeting,” her state secretary, Sigbjørn Aanes, told DN.
Asked how Norway would react to any demand for defense spending equal to 3 percent of GNP, Aanes noted that everyone at the Wales summit agreed “that they should work towards reaching the top goal (of 2 percent) by 2024.” There’s no firm requirement, it’s been noted, just the intention to reach that goal.
“We have turned around Norwegian defense so that there will come considerable (defense spending) increases in the long-term plans that have been approved,” Aanes added.
No comment from NATO either
DN reported that NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, was not available to comment on Wednesday’s report of Trump’s suggestion of 3 percent instead of 2 percent. One of Stoltenberg’s spokespersons, Piers Cazalet, told DN, though, that “this was a confidential dinner for NATO’s state- and government chiefs, and we respect that.”
Trump had already shaken up his NATO allies by refusing to make any mention of the US’ commitment to NATO’s Article 5, which calls for all allies to rush to the aid of anyone attacked. He also publicly scolded the government leaders of NATO countries, from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to British Prime Minister Theresa May, for failing to adequately contribute to defense spending. He then famously shoved aside the prime minister of new NATO member Montenegro in his eagerness to be photographed in the front row of NATO leaders lining up for a group picture. Stoltenberg has faced challenges of his own in trying to deal with the new US president, and reassure NATO members of the US commitment.
The US president, meanwhile, faces a significant lack of support at home. Latest polls show him with an approval rating of just 38 percent, the lowest ever for a US president so soon after his election, while 55.6 percent think he’s doing a bad job.