WASHINGTON | President Donald Trump isn’t telling the straight story on NATO.
He spoke of NATO on Monday as if it’s “essentially” a business, and a failing one until he came along. That was the latest twist on one of his most enduring fictions. It’s not remotely a business but rather a military alliance. It wasn’t going bankrupt, and Trump hasn’t performed a turnaround.
A look at his comments at a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte:
On the recent NATO meeting: “I went to NATO. And NATO was essentially going out of business ’cause people weren’t paying and it was going down, down, down.”
On NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: “He said we couldn’t collect money until President Trump came along. And he said last year we collected $44 billion. And this year the money is pouring in. … So the bottom line is the NATO countries are now paying a lot more money.”
Countries don’t pay to be in NATO and don’t owe the organization anything other than contributions to a largely administrative fund that Trump is not talking about. Member countries are not in debt to NATO. Money is “not pouring in” now. Collections have not increased, as he asserted.
Trump’s actual beef is with how much NATO countries spend on their own military budgets.
The Trump administration is not the first to push countries in NATO to spend more on their own armed forces to lessen their dependence on the U.S. In fact, it was in 2014, during the Obama administration, that NATO members agreed to move “toward” spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their own defense by 2024.
The somewhat-vague commitment was made as a response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea. No one expected all allies would immediately move to 2 percent; the increases were to be gradual.
It’s possible, though not established, that Trump’s hectoring may have spurred some countries to increase their spending faster than they planned or to become more serious about moving to the 2 percent goal.
But at the NATO summit this month, when Trump claimed that he wrung a new commitment out of NATO partners on their military spending, those partners did not back him up. Several European leaders said they merely agreed to keep doing what they’ve been doing — raising military spending under the goal set in 2014.
Trump’s faulty claim that NATO “collected” $44 billion in 2017 refers to one estimate of how much Washington’s partners in the alliance collectively raised their own military spending by last year.
TRUMP: We’re shouldering anywhere of 70 to 90 percent of the cost of NATO. That’s not fair. That’s not fair. Especially when you take Germany and Germany’s paying 1 percent, a little more than 1 percent.”
THE FACTS: That’s not right. The U.S. military budget comprises about 70 percent of the military spending of NATO countries together, but that’s for worldwide military commitments, not just Europe.
Although he called out Germany for spending only 1 percent of its economy on its armed forces (actually an estimated 1.24 percent in 2017 and 2018), he did not mention with his “new friend” Conte at his side that Italy spends even less: an estimated 1.15 percent in 2017 and 2018.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.
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