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Trump on NATO burden sharing: ‘We are the schmucks’

A German tank team fires at targets from its Leopard 2A6 tanks during the Strong Europe Tank Challenge in Grafenwoehr, Germany, Friday, June 8, 2018. President Donald Trump criticized NATO partners, singling out Germany, for not carrying their share of the alliance's costs.

MARTIN EGNASH/STARS AND STRIPES

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 6, 2018

STUTTGART, Germany — President Donald Trump said Thursday that the coming NATO summit will be a venue for confrontation with member states, just hours after his top representative at the alliance played down tensions by saying the goal of the summit was to showcase unity.

“We are the schmucks who pay for the whole thing,” Trump said during a rally in Montana when discussing the American role in NATO.

Trump, who is bound for Brussels next week for a meeting of NATO heads of state, again singled out Germany when he called out Chancellor Angela Merkel by name.

“You know, Angela, I can’t guarantee it, but we’re protecting you and it means a lot more to you than protecting us because I don’t know how much protection we get by protecting you,” Trump said.

The president’s comments came after the U.S.’s top representative to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, played down recent reports that Trump is interested in the idea of pulling large numbers of U.S. forces out of Germany.

“There is nothing being said at all about the troop alignment in Germany or anything that would change the 32,000-troop force that we have in Germany,” Hutchison told reporters Thursday. “The overall theme of this summit is going to be NATO’s strength and unity.”

However, the Brussels summit is shaping up to be one of the most contentious in years, with defense spending expected to dominate the agenda. Allies are on edge because of Trump’s repeated attacks on members, which center on his displeasure that the U.S. spends significantly more on defense than wealthy allies in Europe, which depend on U.S. security guarantees.

The U.S. in turn uses bases throughout Europe as transport hubs for its operations in the Middle East and Africa.

“I’m going to tell NATO you gotta start paying your bills. The United States is not going to take care of everything,” Trump said Thursday.

The majority of NATO members, including Germany, fall short of a NATO benchmark set in 2014 that calls for members to dedicate 2 percent of gross domestic product to their militaries. U.S. complaints about carrying the lion’s share of the security burden are nothing new, going back to NATO’s founding in 1949.

But Trump has seized on the issue more than any other president, even questioning whether NATO is relevant to U.S. security interests in light of the imbalance.

NATO heads of state are expected next week to tout gains in recent years in boosting spending. Hutchison emphasized all allies have stopped defense budget cuts and upped expenditures.

“Every one of our allies — 100 percent — are increasing defense spending,” Hutchison told reporters. “That is something that we will talk about as an achievement, but also that we need to do more.”

Adding to concern about Trump’s criticism of alliance members is the U.S. president’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the summit. At a recent meeting of the G-7, Trump suggested Russia be allowed back into the economic group it was kicked out of after Moscow’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine.

Critics have raised concerns that the Putin summit could result in unexpected concessions, as when Trump canceled U.S. military exercises in South Korea after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, told reporters Thursday that Trump would have his “eyes wide open” during the meeting with Putin.

Trump said he is prepared for the talks.

“You know, Putin is fine. He’s fine. We’re all people,” Trump said. “Will I be prepared? I’ve been preparing for this stuff all my life.”

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

 

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