The last time Donald Trump met with the US’s allies, he left them reeling. After locking horns over tariffs and trade at the G7 summit in Canada in June, the US president left the meeting and immediately withdrew his endorsement of the joint communiqué en route to Singapore to meet with dictator Kim Jong Un.
Those leaders, plus another 23 countries that make up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 29 members, are bracing for a repeat performance from him at today’s NATO summit in Brussels. After the summit and a trip to Brexit-rattled Britain, Trump meets another strongman: Russian president Vladimir Putin. He said Tuesday (July 10) that meeting Putin “may be the easiest of all” his meetings.
Putin is no fan of NATO, so any discord between the US and the alliance members could set the stage for a warm reception in Helsinki, Finland.
Trump already sounds like he’s thirsty for a Brussels showdown. He wrote letters to the leaders of Germany, Canada, and others in June, scolding them for not contributing enough to the joint military budget—and hinting that the alliance was not watertight.
“The United States continues to devote more resources to the defence of Europe when the Continent’s economy, including Germany’s, are doing well and security challenges abound,” Trump wrote to German chancellor Angela Merkel, the New York Times reported. “This is no longer sustainable for us.”
He laid into NATO at a rally in Montana last week, saying that it had made “schmucks” of the US making it pay more to “protect Europe” while “they kill us on trade.” Lumping NATO spending together with his trade war won’t do anything to sweeten the atmosphere at the summit.
At a news conference, European Council President Donald Tusk had a warning for Trump over his “almost daily” criticisms of Europe’s defense spending. “Dear President Trump, America does not have and will not have a better ally than Europe,” Tusk said. “Dear America, appreciate your allies—after all, you don’t have that many.”
Tusk said that when Trump meets Putin afterwards in Helsinki, he should remember “who is your strategic friend and who is your strategic problem.”
While all eyes will be on what Trump does and says at the summit, there are some agreements that have been hashed out beforehand and are expected to get leaders’ approval.
Naturally, sharing the burden of defense spending is high on the agenda. NATO noted today that since 2014, its allies have made progress with getting towards their agreement to put 2% of their GDP towards defense within 10 years.
“I would like to thank all our nations for the efforts they are making. And I would like to thank President Trump for his leadership on defense spending—it is clearly having an impact,”NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said.
Russia’s behavior is another important topic and one that will be most uncomfortable for Trump. Earlier this year, Stoltenberg said the country’s “dangerous behavior” included “the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea, the destabilization of eastern Ukraine, meddling in democratic processes, cyberattacks, and disinformation.”
On Tuesday in Latvia, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said Putin’s recent actions around the world, including the alleged Russia-linked nerve agent attack on the ex-spy in the UK, “require a clear and firm response” from NATO.
Counterterrorism is an ongoing concern. NATO plans to officially launch of a new training mission in Iraq, which would include setting up military schools to help train Iraqi forces to combat ISIS and other terror groups. Leaders will also increase support for its partners in North Africa and the Middle East.
NATO members will adopt what is called the “Four Thirties” initiative— a commitment that by 2020, they will have 30 battalions, 30 air squadrons, and 30 combat vessels ready to mobilize within 30 days. They’ll also discuss a new Command Structure, and military mobility.