President Donald Trump once declared NATO “obsolete.” Today (July 12), he said “I believe in NATO.”
After reportedly making a veiled threat to withdraw from the alliance (paywall) at an emergency meeting of leaders this morning, Trump went on to praise commitments to raise defense spending, calling the alliance a “fine-tuned machine.”
The Washington Post reported that behind closed doors, Trump had threatened to “do his own thing” if the alliance’s member countries did not immediately increase defense-spending contributions. Asked if the reports were accurate, Trump said at a press conference that he had told other countries he’d “be very unhappy if they didn’t up their commitments substantially.”
When asked if he thought he could pull out of the alliance without the approval of US Congress, he said he thought he could, but that it was “unnecessary.” “They have stepped up today like they have never stepped up before,” he added.
Though the full extent of increased spending commitments has not yet been announced, Trump said that—thanks to his prodding—other NATO members had agreed to spend $33 billion more on defense in the last year. “Everybody in the room thanked me. There’s a great collegial spirit in that room that I don’t think they’ve had in many years,” he added.
Though he rebuked countries like Germany and Spain for what he deemed as an over-reliance on the defense capabilities of the US, his comments were a remarkable volte-face for a leader that has consistently admonished the 29-member alliance. “NATO is much stronger now than it was two days ago,” he said. “We are doing numbers like they’ve never done before or ever seen before.”
Trump also walked back his surprise demand for other countries to increase defense-spending commitments to 4% of their GDP. “Right now we’re getting people up to 2%, and that will take place over a short period of time. After we’re at 2%, we can start going higher.” But 4%, he said, “is the right number.”