US President Donald Trump has told NATO countries to increase their defence spending to four percent of their gross domestic product, higher than the group’s goal of two percent, a White House official said on Wednesday.
The official said the president’s remarks were not a formal proposal but came as he was urging leaders of the 29-member military alliance to increase their outlays on defence.
The US president has been openly critical of his NATO allies since becoming president in January 2017. Ahead of the summit being held in the Belgian capital, Brussels, Trump sent out a tweet about the funding of NATO.
Trump has repeatedly said the US was bearing an unfair burden because it spends many times more of its GDP on defence than other NATO countries.
Speaking at the summit, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg earlier said that members states had agreed to spend more on defence in the coming years.
“All allies are increasing defence spending. This year at least eight of the NATO countries have committed to spend at least two percent of their GDP on defence and a majority of our allies have plans to do so by 2024,” Stoltenberg said during a press conference in Brussels.
“For a quarter of a century many countries have been cutting billions from their defence budgets. Now they are adding billions,” he added.
Based on 2016 figures provided by NATO, only the US, Greece, UK, Estonia and Poland spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defence-related matters.
Stoltenberg said that in the coming years, the financial burden will be divided more evenly.
In total, NATO will receive $266bn more between this year and 2024, the secretary-general said.
But Stoltenberg’s assurances that NATO member states are ramping up military funding do not seem to have impressed Trump.
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, reporting from Moscow, said that “there will be people in Russia who will look at this destabilising of NATO with some degree of relish”.
“Russia has long disliked NATO as a leftover from the Soviet period… They have always seen it as a US imperial project with its final goal being Moscow.”
Immediately after the summit, Trump sent out a tweet rehashing the points he made earlier during the day.
He said countries should not wait several years to raise their spending but instead should do it immediately.
What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2018
According to former US defence official and fellow at the Atlantic Council, Mark Simakovsky, Trump’s posture at the summit might be a negotiating tactic.
“The United States itself isn’t meeting the four percent threshold itself, and it will be hard to get there because of budget restrictions, but I don’t think he’s that concerned,” Simakovsky told Al Jazeera.
Along with the increase in funding, NATO members also said they will work together to increase the capabilities of NATO missions around the world.
One of these missions will be in Iraq, where an operation will be set up to train local forces.
“The importance of the training mission in Iraq is because we believe prevention is more effective than intervention,” the head of NATO said.
“We have to make sure ISIL is not able to come back. The best way to do this is by making sure the Iraqi government training, the Iraqi forces are able to prevent them from coming back,” he added.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered for Canada to lead NATO’s new military training mission in Iraq.
Speaking at an event on the sidelines of the NATO summit, Trudeau focused on the importance of rebuilding the war-ravaged country.
“We have to build that democracy and strengthen it,” Trudeau said, adding that doing this “is something that we believe in deeply.”
Trudeau also said Canada is willing to provide 250 troops and helicopters to help the efforts.
Simakovsky said that despite Trump’s harsh stance, NATO has made significant progress during the summit.
“In actual practice, tomorrow you are going to see some concrete deliverables. You will see a NATO Readiness Initiative, you will see more NATO military batallions, planes and ships to be ready to be deployed within 30 days. You’re also going to see two new NATO commands, one in the US and one in Germany,” Simakovsky said.
He also pointed out that NATO is increasing its efforts to deter Russia’s posturing in eastern Europe, with more troops to be stationed in the Baltics, and more focus on cybersecurity and counterterrorism efforts.
Russian gas and oil
The NATO summit in Brussels was off to a rocky start, when on Wednesday morning Trump told Stoltenberg Russia is effectively holding Germany captive because Germany’s reliance on Russian gas and oil.
Trump said it was “very inappropriate” for the US to be paying for European defence from Russia while Germany is supporting gas deals with Moscow.
“They pay billions of dollars to Russia and we have to defend them against Russia,” Trump told Stoltenberg at a breakfast meeting.
“Germany as far as I’m concerned is captive to Russia because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia,” he said.
Usually the 29-member military alliance’s annual meetings have traditionally been fairly by-the-book affairs, expectations are different this year – thanks, in large, to Trump.
The US president has been openly critical of many of NATO’s practices, often railing against Washington spending more money on defence than other member states.
According to Al Jazeera correspondent Rory Challands, Trump’s destabilising recent remarks are seen as both good and bad by Russia.
“From the Moscow perspective, anything that destabilises NATO is seen as a good thing. However there is plenty to unsettle them as well. One of them is that Trump has painted Russia as the boogeyman,” Challands said.
“But Trump has also taken aim at Russia’s oil and gas export. The country uses its energy export as a foreign policy tool, and anything that weakens that ability for Russia is going to be seen negatively here,” he added.
“There is also a view here, not just here but also in Western Europe, is that Trump maybe has ulterior motives. They think Trump is not just warning for Europe’s reliance on Russia’s energy, but what he is actually trying to do is to create a space for American oil and gas if Europe removes itself from Russian energy.”