Donald Trump has reportedly sent sharply-worded letters to several the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) member countries including Britain –Washington’s most loyal battlefield ally in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – rebuking them for spending too little on their militaries.
The US president sent similar letters to the leaders of several NATO allies, including Germany, Belgium, Norway and Canada, warning that his administration was losing patience with what he said was their failure to meet security obligations shared by the alliance, The New York Times reported.
The letters sent in June, the report adds, are the latest sign of acrimony between Trump and American allies as he heads to a NATO summit meeting next week in Brussels. He has repeatedly questioned its value and has claimed that its members are taking advantage of the United States.
A strongly-worded letter to Britain’s defence secretary Gavin Williamson noted that Britain was one of the few NATO allies that had already met the alliance’s target of spending two percent of economic output on the military. But it said that was not good enough. Britain’s global role "will require a level of defence spending beyond what we would expect from allies with only regional interests," the letter said.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, meanwhile, said on Tuesday that Trump will tell fellow NATO countries at next week’s summit that the United States cannot be "the world’s piggy bank".
"What the president is going to do is go into these meetings with the mindset to protect the American people, stand with our partners and allies - but as he has said many times before America is thought so often to be the world’s piggy bank. And that’s gotta stop," Gidley had told reporters, as per a Reuters report. Trump has pressured some NATO allies to significantly increase military expenditure.
The letters show Trump’s determination to pressure NATO allies to significantly increase military expenditure, ahead of the summit in Brussels.
The US president also hinted that after more than a year of public and private complaints that allies have not done enough to share the burden of collective defence, he may be considering a response, including adjusting the United States’ military presence around the world, as per the New York Times report.
According to a report in The Independent, the NATO allies had agreed in 2014 to spend more on their own national defence, aiming to eventually contribute two percent of their GDP to the effort. Many members countries say they are still working towards that goal, and are frustrated by Trump’s threats.
Trump's tumultuous relationship with NATO
Right from his campaign trail, Trump had declared NATO obsolete. Even during his first year in office, the US president had used NATO as a punching bag. He had often called members of the American-led security alliance in Europe as 'deadbeats freeloading on US defence spending.'
It took until Trump's second trip to Europe last July for him to reaffirm America's commitment to defend fellow members if they come under attack.
During a visit to NATO headquarters last year in Brussels, Trump had pointedly not mentioned US support for a critical portion of the NATO charter. He used his speech there to demand that members pay more for the alliance’s defence.
A senior White House official later had said the United States does, in fact, support Article 5 simply by agreeing to the terms of the charter.
But having not mentioned it himself, Trump sowed some doubts among allies and the ensuing controversy prompted Vice-President Mike Pence to later express explicit US support for the charter.
Senior aides to Trump had tried to get a statement of explicit support for Article 5 in the president’s NATO speech but it was not included, a senior administration official said.
But later last year, Trump again took a u-turn when he said: "I’m committing the United States to Article 5 and certainly we are there to protect and that’s one of the reasons that I want people to make sure we have a very, very strong force by paying the kind of money necessary to have that force." "But yes, absolutely I’d be committed to Article 5," he had said.
'NATO ripping us off'
Then last month, Trump had fired off a volley of tweets venting anger on NATO allies in the wake of a divisive G-7 meeting. He had lambasted fellow members of NATO for paying disproportionately less than the United States to maintain the Western alliance.
"The US pays close to the entire cost of NATO – protecting many of these same countries that rip us off on trade (they pay only a fraction of the cost - and laugh!)," he tweeted. "The European Union had a $151 billion surplus – should pay much more for the military!"
"Germany pays one percent (slowly) of GDP toward NATO, while we pay four percent of a much larger GDP. Does anybody believe that makes sense?" "We protect Europe (which is good) at great financial loss, and then get unfairly clobbered on trade. Change is coming!," he had said.
His extraordinary outburst against NATO allies appeared aimed at striking a chord with voters who support his "America First" agenda. At the same time, however, it put Trump in the position of going into a crucial summit at odds with countries he needs on his side to pressure North Korea to move toward dismantling a nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States.
With inputs from agencies.
Updated Date: Jul 04, 2018 13:41:17 IST