US President Donald Trump lashed out at European allies before a NATO anniversary summit in London on Tuesday, singling out France’s Emmanuel Macron for “very nasty” comments on the alliance and Germany for spending too little on defence.
Underlining the breadth of strife in a transatlantic bloc hailed by its backers as the most successful military alliance in history, Trump demanded that Europe pay more for defence and also make concessions to US interests on trade.
The attack echoed a similar tirade by Trump ahead of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s last summit in July 2018.
It will add to the growing doubts over the future of the 29-member alliance, described last month by Macron as “brain dead” in the run-up to a London meeting intended to be a 70th anniversary celebration.
“It’s a tough statement, though, when you make a statement like that, that is a very, very nasty statement to essentially 28, including them, 28 countries,” Trump told reporters as he met the head of NATO in London.
“Nobody needs NATO more than France,” he said, adding that France, where Macron is seeking to push through delicate reforms of a large state sector, was “not doing well economically”.
In an interview with the Economist last month, Macron made headlines by faulting NATO for failing to update its strategy to respond to newer threats such as instability in Syria.
Trump explicitly linked his complaint that Europe does not pay enough for NATO’s security missions to his staunch “America First” defence of US commercial interests, saying it was time for Europe to “shape up” on both fronts.
“It’s not right to be taken advantage of on NATO and also then to be taken advantage of on trade, and that’s what happens. We can’t let that happen,” he said of transatlantic disputes over everything from the aerospace sector to a European “digital tax” on US technology giants.
Dismissing recent signals from Germany that it was ready to do more to match a NATO target of spending two percent of national output on defence, Trump accused it and other nations which spend less than that of being “delinquent”.
ERDOGAN THREAT ON BALTICS PLAN
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who shared omelette and sausages with Trump over breakfast, tweeted that the pre-summit talks had got off to an “excellent start”.
But the US leader’s broadside came only hours after splits opened up elsewhere in the alliance, with Turkey threatening to block a plan to defend Baltic states and Poland against Russian attacks unless the alliance backs Ankara in recognising the Kurdish YPG militia as a terrorist group.
The YPG’s fighters have long been US allies on the ground against Islamic State in Syria. Turkey considers them an enemy because of links to Kurdish insurgents in southeastern Turkey.
“If our friends at NATO do not recognise as terrorist organisations those we consider terrorist organisations… we will stand against any step that will be taken there,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said before travelling to London.
Erdogan, who has already strained alliance ties with a move to buy Russian air defence systems, said he would meet Polish President Andrzej Duda and leaders of Baltic countries.
The question mark over the Baltics’ plan, which was drawn up at their request after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, raises issues about security on all of NATO’s frontiers.
Under NATO’s 1949 founding treaty, an attack on one ally is an attack on all, and the alliance has military strategies for collective defence across its territory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday branded NATO’s continued expansion as pointless because the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 had removed the threat, and told a meeting of military leaders in Sochi that it was a danger for Russia.
While Trump hailed Turkey as a good NATO ally, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier warned Ankara in a Reuters interview that “not everybody sees the threats that they see” and urged it to stop blocking the Baltics plan.
In a bid to placate Trump, Europe, Turkey and Canada will pledge $400 billion in defence spending by 2024, and also agree to reduce the US contribution to fund the alliance itself.