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Trump Says Allies To Increase Military Spending

Jul 12, 2018
Originally published on July 12, 2018 10:13 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yesterday, President Trump asked a question on Twitter - what good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? This morning, when the president was talking about NATO at the NATO summit in Brussels, very different message.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And now we're very happy and have a very, very powerful, very, very strong NATO - much stronger than it was two days ago.

GREENE: That is President Trump speaking at an unscheduled press conference in Brussels. He is wrapping up his time at the NATO summit, moving on now to other foreign stops, including London and Great Britain. And then he moves on to Helsinki for a big meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Let's talk about his press conference this morning and the NATO summit as it wraps up. We have Alice Fordham on the line from it. She has been covering this summit in Brussels. And we have NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson in Washington. Good morning to you both.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: I just want to start with you, Mara. My head is spinning a little bit listening to the evolving message from President Trump on NATO. What did you hear this morning, and how significant was it?

LIASSON: Well, I thought it was very significant because the headlines were "Trump Threatens To Pull Out Of NATO," (ph) that he was in this emergent - meeting. He was demanding that if the allies didn't immediately bring their spending up to 2 percent that he would go it alone. All of a sudden, he did a 180. He took yes for an answer. And he announced that now NATO is a fine-tuned machine. It's more put together and coordinated than ever before. They have - he acted as if he got something from NATO. Until we see the details, from what he said today, it sounds like what he got is what he already had. In other words, he took yes for an answer, before he was elected president, that NATO allies agreed to bring their defense spending up to 2 percent by 2024. That doesn't seem to have changed. And...

GREENE: All right.

LIASSON: ...He didn't say anything today that suggested it has.

GREENE: Well, Alice Fordham, do we know of anything that has changed? Do we know any new commitments that NATO countries have made that might justify the president standing there and taking credit this morning?

FORDHAM: Yeah, David. As you say, this was something that sounded an awful lot like what has been very carefully prepared to be the message, the takeaway from this NATO summit from the beginning. NATO is ramping up its defenses in the face of threats. People are planning to spend more money.

Now, as Mara said, it has been a jittery morning here. And there have been media reports that have suggested that unless some of the richer countries in NATO didn't increase their defense spending by the period of months rather than the period of years, then he would threaten to leave the alliance. I haven't been able to confirm that personally. The only thing that was maybe a bit more specific in the press conference that he just gave was that he indicated that he had persuaded them to increase their defense budget faster than they had initially planned to.

So NATO has been increasing its defense budgets over a period of years. It plans to do so more. He has called for that to happen faster. And what he said since his first conference is that that's going to happen on a quicker schedule. He said some people are going to have to go back to their Parliaments and get permission, get authorization for it. And he said then they will get that approval. But yeah, it's a fine difference from what has already been said by NATO leaders here.

GREENE: Mara, I just want to step back a little bit. I mean, we heard from Germany's defense minister on our air yesterday that she has been relieved because she's been hearing from members of Congress in the United States who wanted to reassure her that the United States still finds NATO to be relevant and important. It is extraordinary that this president came into this meeting with, as Alice just said, a lot of jitters among the European allies as to whether, I mean, the United States was - not just a question whether they were committed to NATO but even whether they would still stay in NATO.

LIASSON: Well, that's what was so interesting. The president was really just a party of one on this. There was no pullout of NATO caucus in Congress. As a matter of fact, both the Senate and the House passed a nonbinding resolution this week by almost unanimous votes saying that the U.S. is committed to NATO. And there's nobody in his administration that is lobbying for him to pull out of NATO. In other words, he was all by himself on this one. And he blustered, and he bluffed. He called his own bluff, and then he capitulated. I mean, this definitely goes into bark-worse-than-bite folder.

GREENE: Alice, do you see it as bark worse than bite? Or were there some European leaders who were really worried about a bite and worried that the United States was really not going to stay the, you know, strong force in this alliance?

FORDHAM: Everyone that I spoke to was very keen to downplay any concerns, completely understandably. The Lithuania defense minister, who was speaking at a (unintelligible) event yesterday said, I regard this as something in the family. It is a dispute that we will resolve in the family. But at the same time, I'm sitting right now outside the shiny, new, enormous NATO headquarters. I can see the helicopters that are buzzing past reflecting in its shiny glass windows. And there was definitely a feeling that the foundations of this kind of vast edifice, this thing that people believe in more than ever, were a bit wobbly. And the president's unpredictable. People were nervous.

GREENE: And just in the few seconds we have left, Mara, I guess it's on now to Britain and then Helsinki for a huge meeting with Vladimir Putin.

LIASSON: Well, a huge meeting with Vladimir Putin that the president downplayed today. He said, it's just a loose meeting, no big schedule - could lead to something productive, maybe not. He still is leaving open the question of whether he'd recognize Russia's forcible annexation of Crimea, whether he'd agree to cancel military exercises with NATO, which is something that Vladimir Putin wants. So those questions are still hanging in the air. But this was a very well-behaved Donald Trump, did a 180 degree turn...

GREENE: All right. We'll have to stop there. Mara Liasson and Alice Fordham, thank you both. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.