In sharp exchanges before a NATO summit, US and French leaders trade barbs over future of the military alliance.
In formal talks following a Buckingham Palace reception on Tuesday to celebrate 70 years of NATO, European leaders led by Germany and France aim to tell Trump they will not be treated as junior partners as they confront global conflicts.
Despite Trump’s accusations on Tuesday that allies were “delinquent” in their failure to spend as much as the United States on their armed forces, Europe, Turkey and Canada will use the gathering at a luxury golf club north of London to argue they will spend $400bn collectively on defence by 2024.
“If we invest money and risk our soldiers’ lives … we should be clear on NATO’s fundamentals,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter, adding that on Wednesday he would “defend the interests of France and Europe”.
That is likely to include a push to broaden NATO politically to consider a bigger role for the alliance in the Middle East and possibly Africa, although Berlin and Paris must first seek NATO support for a “wise persons” group to draw up reform plans.
In a final communique, NATO allies will recommit to their pledge to defend each other, while the United Kingdom is also expected to put six warships, two fighter squadrons and thousands of troops at NATO’s disposal to meet a US demand for European armies to be more combat-ready.
NATO will also warn China for the first time that it is monitoring Beijing’s growing military might, agreeing to gradually prepare the alliance to defend against any possible future hostilities, in arenas ranging from the Arctic to computer networks.
The NATO leaders’ attempt to make a show of unity has already been overshadowed by bitter disputes about the future of the alliance.
Macron has called for a renewed strategic dialogue with Russia and demanded that Turkey explain itself over its assault – backed by Syrian rebels Paris sees as terrorists – on Kurdish forces and its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence system.
The leaders met in various groups in London on Tuesday before having dinner with Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace, but Macron refused to withdraw his charge that NATO strategy is “brain dead” and Trump continued to insist some capitals were “delinquent” in paying their way.
The dispute set up a tense last day of what NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg hoped would be a 70th-anniversary show of unity for the “most successful military alliance in history”, and a demonstration the West can stand up to challenges from Russia and China.
British host Prime Minister Boris Johnson will make an appeal for unity.
“Seventy years on, we are rock solid in our commitment to NATO and to the giant shield of solidarity that now protects 29 countries and nearly a billion people,” Johnson will say, according to his office.
“If NATO has a motto, it is: ‘One for all, and all for one’.”
‘Very nasty statement’
In recent weeks Macron has tried to shake up the agenda by demanding a review of alliance strategy, but Trump – who arrived boasting he had forced members to boost defence spending – hit back hard.
“I think that’s very insulting,” Trump said of Macron’s assertion last month that NATO is experiencing “brain death”, branding it a “very, very nasty statement”.
“Nobody needs NATO more than France,” he warned. “It’s a very dangerous statement for them to make.”
Trump later softened his tone at a joint appearance with Macron, but the French leader stood by his approach – and his choice of language – and turned his guns on Turkey, accusing Ankara of working with “extremists”.
“The common enemy today are the terrorist groups, as we mentioned, and I’m sorry to say that we don’t have the same definition of terrorism around the table,” Macron said.
Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later came face to face at four-way talks with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain’s Johnson.
Merkel said she was “relatively optimistic” after the meeting, but Macron warned that “not all clarifications were obtained and not all ambiguities were resolved”.
Erdogan has threatened to hold up NATO efforts to bolster the protection of the Baltic republics against Russia unless the allies brand the Kurdish militias who defeated the ISIL armed group in Syria as “terrorists”.
‘Not paid up’
Trump defended Stoltenberg’s record of pushing allies for increased defence spending, but he reiterated his own long-standing complaints.
“When I came in, I was angry at NATO and now I’ve raised $130bn,” Trump said, referring to the sum Stoltenberg says Canada and European members since 2016 will have added to defence budgets by next year.
“And yet you still have many delinquent – you know I call them delinquent when they’re not paid up in full,” Trump said.
Only nine of NATO’s 29 members have reached the target agreed at its 2014 summit to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defence before 2024.
Trump cited Germany in particular as falling short, spending only 1.2 percent of GDP.
The substance of the summit is thin with only one three-hour session planned where leaders are expected to sign off on a set of decisions already taken by NATO foreign and defence ministers.
These include defining space as a domain of conflict – alongside land, sea, air and cyberspace – as well as acknowledging for the first time the “challenges” posed by China’s rise.
“We have now recognised that the rise of China has security implications for all allies,” Stoltenberg said.
Germany has suggested an expert panel could look at how NATO can be adapted to address political questions more effectively and the leaders are expected to endorse this.