Donald Trump may have walked back his harsh assessment that “NATO is obsolete” during a White House meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg back in April, but returned to his public condemnation of the alliance during a meeting with NATO allies in Brussels on Thursday.
“I have been very, very direct with Secretary Stoltenberg and members of the alliance in saying that NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations. But 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying, and what they're supposed to be paying for their defense,” Trump said during his first official meeting with leaders from the 27 other members of the alliance in Brussels. While campaigning, Trump called Brussels a “hellhole.”
As NATO leaders stole sidelong glances at each other during a ceremony at the alliance's new headquarters, Trump lectured member nations to “finally contribute their fair share” on defense.
“Over the last eight years, the United States spent more on defense than all other NATO countries combined,” Trump said. “This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States, and many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years, and not paying in those past years.” Trump said that NATO would have had $119 billion more if NATO members lived up to their obligations. “Two percent is the bare minimum for confronting today’s very real and very vicious threats,” he said.
Trump even suggested at the dedication of the new NATO headquarters that it cost too much. “I never asked once what the new NATO headquarters cost,” he said. “I refuse to do that. But it is beautiful.”
Despite the public scolding from Trump, NATO leaders were perhaps even more unsettled by what Trump didn’t say. Breaking with longstanding precedent, Trump refused to endorse NATO’s Article 5 clause, the “one-for-all, all-for-one” principle that compels the U.S. to automatically come to the defense of a member state in the event of an attack. Every U.S. President since Truman has pledged support for Article 5. At a ceremony to dedicate a memorial to NATO’s resolve in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Trump did not make that same pledge.
“Leaders who gathered from across the alliance gazed at Trump without expression and offered modest applause at the end,” The Washington Post reported. According to The New York Times, Trump “received a chilly reception” upon his arrival to the European Union's de facto capital:
The president’s first meeting with the Continent’s leaders began with officials from the United States and Europe saying nothing to one another. After being welcomed to Brussels, Mr. Trump said, “Thank you very much,” but he was otherwise silent as he gazed at the cameras across the room.
A European Union official did confirm to Politico that Trump had one other topic he was all too happy to discuss with Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission — the size of his electoral college victory.