President Trump offered an ambiguous reply Tuesday when asked if the US would come to the defense of a NATO ally under attack, if that country had not spent as much on defense as the US expected.
“Well, you know, I’m going to be discussing that today. And it’s a very interesting question, isn’t it?” Trump said during a bilateral sitdown with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the NATO meeting in London.
He then riffed on what amount would be sufficient, and suggested again that NATO allies “owe” the US for not spending more on defense
“And, you know it also depends on what your definition of delinquent is. For instance, if you have a country that’s paying only 1 percent, you have somebody that is paying less than 1 percent and they shouldn’t be, you have some paying less than 1 percent and they’re wealthy countries on top of everything,” the president told reporters.
“Now we go to a new year and they don’t pay and now we go to yet another year and they don’t pay, well, now I ask you, do they have to pay for the back years? Now, so why is it that they owe us for this year but every time a new year comes out, they don’t have to pay? It’s wrong. It’s not right,” the president continued.
He then suggested that NATO members could have to pay for what he called 25 years of inadequate defense spending — except for Canada.
“I could say that you could go back 25 years, I won’t do that with Canada, of course, but, no, but you could go back, you know, right from the beginning. Where they were short of whatever goal it was at the time, it’s 2 percent now. Two percent is very low. It should be 4 percent.”
Germany in particular, he added, could owe the US “billions of dollars.”
“I mean they really owe all that money from the past. that’s the way I look at it. If Germany as an example is paying 1 percent and they’re supposed to be paying 2 percent, you’re talking about billions of dollars,” Trump contended.
Trudeau stressed his own country’s hike in defense spending and reminded the president that Canada, like many other NATO countries, was a part of the coalition that fought with the US in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks.
“The relationship between Canada and the United States is incredibly strong. I don’t think it’s ever been stronger,” Trudeau said, adding that his government had committed to increase defense spending by 70 percent over 10 years.
“The president knows as well that Canada has been there for every NATO deployment. We have consistently stepped up, sent our troops into harm’s way. We continue to step up like most of our allies,” adding that actions speak louder than percentages.
“There are some countries that even though they might reach the 2 percent don’t step up nearly as much and I think it’s important to look at what is actually being done and the United States and all NATO allies know that Canada is a solid, reliable partner and will continue to defend NATO and defend our interests,” Trudeau said.
The 28 NATO countries slashed spending as tensions eased after the Cold War.
But Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula was a wake-up call, and the allies agreed then to halt cuts, boost budgets and move toward spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense by 2024.
European allies and Canada rely heavily on US equipment like large military transport planes and air-to-air refueling, and NATO’s deterrent effect is more credible backed by the US.
Nine countries are projected to meet the 2 percent benchmark this year — the US with about 3.4 percent, plus Greece, Britain, Bulgaria, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania — up from three nations in 2014. Germany will spend just 1.35 percent, ranking it 17th, but it aims to hit 1.5 percent by the deadline.
Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg spend less than 1 percent.
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