The World of International Organizations Explained

At NATO, Trump clashes with major allies

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron, right, mask their conflicts with U.S. President Donald Trump while posing for a photo in between meetings in London on Dec. 3, 2019 (ARÊTE/Shealah Craighead)

U.S. President Donald Trump picked fights with traditional American partners at NATO’s 70th anniversary on Tuesday, calling French President Emmanuel Macron “very, very nasty” and Canadian President Justin Trudeau’s government “slightly delinquent” in military spending.

Trump’s attacks on Macron were a response to the French leader’s comments last month to Economist magazine that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization appears to have suffered “brain death” due to an inability to cooperate and coordinate among its 29 member nations from Europe and North America.

“You just can’t go around making statements like that about NATO,” Trump said, flanked by NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg during a one-0n-one meeting between them. “I would say that nobody needs NATO more than France,” Trump said. “That’s why I think when France makes a statement like they made about NATO, that’s a very dangerous statement for them to make.”

Macron also had called into question whether NATO will remain committed to the 1948 North Atlantic Treaty’s bedrock Article 5 — which defines an attack against one as an attack against all — in an era of rising populist nationalism, particularly white nationalism, fueled by Trump’s “America First” policies.

Trump policies of seeking to tear down and fundamentally realign global politics and economics have strained relations with NATO allies. He called NATO “obsolete” during his campaign for the White House, even suggesting America might not defend the alliance’s members if they were attacked, and last year began hammering away at traditional U.S. allies to pressure them into spending more on defense.

Later on Tuesday, however, Trump seemed to soften his position towards Macron during their one-on-one meeting. He said that he and Macron had a “minor dispute” over France’s plan to impose stiffer taxes on U.S. high-tech companies and Trump’s plan to retaliate with major tariffs on French goods.

“We would rather not do that,” Trump said. “But it’s either going to work out, or we’ll work out some mutually beneficial tax. And the tax will be substantial, and I’m not sure it will come to that, but it might.”

Macron, for his part made clear he stood by his comments to the Economist. “I know that my statements created some reactions,” Macron said. “When we speak about NATO, it’s not just about money. We have to be respectful with our soldiers. The first burden we share, the first cost we pay, is our soldiers’ lives.”

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II welcomed Stoltenberg and other NATO leaders to London at a Buckingham Palace reception on Tuesday night, ahead of Wednesday’s meeting among NATO leaders. Stoltenberg was scheduled to hold a news conference on Wednesday after the leaders’ morning meeting.

More for defense

Trump has suggested that NATO allies should spend as much as 4 percent of their GDP on defense, which would double the current target of 2 percent by 2024. He claimed Germany is compromised by its reliance on Russian energy due to a huge undersea pipeline project on the northeastern Baltic coast that would double the amount of gas that Russia would be able to directly deliver to German consumers.

The United States and some European Union members opposed the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project on grounds it would strengthen Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leverage in Europe. The Trump administration reportedly is considering pulling out U.S. forces from Germany.

Ahead of his one-on-one meeting on Tuesday with Trudeau, Trump said the two leaders would discuss what to do about “delinquent” countries such as Canada that should contribute more to military spending. NATO figures show the United States contributes 3.1 percent of its GDP to defense spending, compared with Canada’s roughly 1.3 per cent of GDP.

“I think it’s very unfair when a country doesn’t pay, so most likely I’d do something with respect to trade,” Trump said. Asked to clarify his views on Canada’s share of the alliance’s defense spending, Trump said it was “slightly delinquent, but they’ll be OK. I have confidence.”

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