BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Donald Trump gave an angry ultimatum to European allies on Thursday, warning a NATO summit the United States could withdraw its support and sparking crisis talks which the U.S. president said produced big new defense spending pledges. Other leaders, however, played down the extent to which they went beyond existing commitments to increase contributions to their own defense, as Trump demanded they share more of what he calls an unfair burden on U.S. taxpayers in funding an alliance focused on discouraging pressure from a resurgent Moscow.
In a closed-door meeting with NATO leaders, Trump said that if European governments did not spend more on defense, the United States “would have to look to go its own way”, according to one diplomatic source present in the room.
Trump delivered the line after what several sources said was an improvised rant focused on his grievances about transatlantic ties, but appeared to hesitate before issuing his ultimatum, which led to some confusion about what he really meant. The early morning drama was part of two days of diplomatic theater in Brussels, as allies tried to shield a post-war world order from his “America first” demands. A month after he walked out of a G7 economic summit amid rows about new U.S. tariffs that have provoked fears of global trade war, Trump was already at the center of a storm from the start of the NATO summit on Wednesday. He accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of being beholden to Moscow due to energy imports, while letting Americans pay for protecting Germany from Russia. In a characteristically freewheeling news conference at NATO headquarters, covering his impending visit to Britain, talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, Iran, China, and his father and mother’s European roots, Trump also returned to a favored theme. He linked calls for higher defense spending to complaints about Germany’s trade surplus and renewed a threat to raise tariffs on EU-made cars if trade terms do not change. For many of those present, Trump’s demands that they move closer to the 3.6 percent of GDP Washington spends on the world’s most powerful military make little sense. “Even if we had the money, what would spend it on?” one NATO diplomat said. “In the case of Germany, a lot of European countries would be very uncomfortable with that level of spending,” the diplomat added — a nod to the World War Two aggression that was to lead to NATO’s creation. “It would be armed to the teeth.”