BRUSSELS – U.S. President Donald Trump hailed a personal victory at a NATO summit on Thursday, saying allies had sharply increased defense spending commitments after he provoked a crisis session with a tirade at European leaders.
Officials at the meeting said Trump had shocked many present and broke with diplomatic protocol by addressing German Chancellor Merkel by her first name, telling her: “Angela, you need to do something about this.”
“We had a very intense summit,” Merkel herself told reporters after the meeting.
“I told people that I would be very unhappy if they didn’t up their commitments,” an ebullient U.S. president told reporters at a previously unscheduled press conference after the second day of the Brussels meeting, when NATO leaders had huddled with him to try to defuse a crisis.
“I let them know that I was extremely unhappy,” he said, but added that the talks had ended on the best of terms: “It all came together at the end. It was a little tough for a little while.”
Invited leaders from non-NATO countries Afghanistan and Georgia had been asked to leave, along with most NATO leaders’ retinues of officials, as the heads of state and government of the Western alliance sought to deal with the man whose nation commands much of the budget and forces for Europe’s defense.
Others in the room, including the Lithuanian president — whose country is among the most nervous of Russian ambitions — denied a suggestion that Trump had threatened pull the United States out of the alliance that it helped found to keep the peace in Europe after World War Two.
When asked about that, Trump said he believed he could do that without Congressional approval but it was “not necessary.”
Instead, he said, the other 28 allies had agreed to increase their defense spending more immediately to meet an existing NATO target. Allies would be increasing spending by $33 billion or more, Trump added.
‘Total credit to me’
“We have a very powerful, very strong NATO, much stronger than it was two days ago,” he said. Citing the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, he said: “Secretary Stoltenberg gives us total credit, meaning me, I guess, in this case, total credit. Because I said it was unfair.”
The U.S. president had opened the first day of talks in Brussels on Wednesday with a public diatribe against Germany, the second biggest state in the Western defense alliance, criticizing its reliance on Russian gas imports and failure to spend more on defense.
The mood then appeared to calm as the summit went into its second day, set to focus mainly on ending the long war in Afghanistan, with low expectations, showing the extent of European frustration with Trump’s “America first” policies among the other 28 members of the alliance.
But, several sources said, Trump instead reopened in strong terms his demand that other countries greatly speed up their progress toward a NATO target agreed in 2014, of spending at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense to counter threats ranging from Russia’s military modernization to militant attacks on European cities. The agreement currently has a deadline of 2024 with get-out terms available that can stretch it to 2030.
“The language was much tougher today,” one source said. “His harshest words were directed at Germany, including by calling her Angela — ‘You, Angela.’ “
As well as Merkel, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Charles Michel, the prime minister of Belgium, were also singled out by Trump for undershooting on their spending targets while U.S. taxpayers — funding a defense budget worth about 3.6 percent of their national income — foot much of NATO’s bills.
Breaking from a carefully scripted session that was to focus on Ukraine and Georgia, one source said Trump “forcibly restated” his position on the deadline for the 2 percent spending target.
Trump also took to Twitter to say publicly what he had told NATO leaders privately on Wednesday, calling on all allies to meet the 2014 commitment.
He also renewed a demand that they even double that — though many question what they could usefully spend it on.
“All NATO Nations must meet their 2% commitment, and that must ultimately go to 4%!” Trump tweeted an hour before the second day of the summit got under way.
Despite the first day’s haranguing of allies for failing to meet spending targets, and accusing Germany of being a prisoner to Russian energy, Trump had been mild-mannered at a private dinner on Wednesday, and had avoided outbursts many NATO diplomats feared.