Donald Trump unpredictable at NATO summit as he questions the alliance’s very reason for being – Donald Trump’s America
With 2,500 accredited media at an event it doesn’t take long for a whisper to become a shout.
At 11am in Brussels when the first reports started dropping that Donald Trump had let loose, again, on his NATO allies — this time with a possible threat added that the US would simply pull out of the alliance — it didn’t take long to spread among the press corps.
Most had written off the day as much duller than the previous — when the US President had lambasted German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a captive of Russia.
But had the early morning tweets raging against “rich NATO countries” not paying their share and the criticism of Germany only been the beginning?
Just a few hours before he was due to leave for Britain, Mr Trump had more to say apparently — and he said it.
“We are being played for fools,” he reportedly told leaders at a meeting meant to revolve around Georgia and Ukraine.
The tweets started coming with claims that Mr Trump had finally threatened to do what had only been hinted at — walking away from NATO.
Reporters scurried for the press conference room.
“I’m sorry, they’re for White House staff,” they were told as they tried to grab vacant seats at the front.
Donald Trump twitter Nato: “Presidents have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Germany and other rich NATO Nations to pay more toward their protection from Russia. They pay only a fraction of their cost. The U.S. pays tens of Billions of Dollars too much to subsidize Europe, and loses Big on Trade!”
After throwing hand grenades for a day-and-a-half behind the scenes, insulting allies, and questioning the military alliance’s very reason for being, the media was preparing for Mr Trump to do the same in a formal press conference — albeit hastily arranged.
But he didn’t.
He gave NATO his backing.
He heaped on the praise.
It was the most collegial it had ever been, he said.
And he praised himself for getting them all to sign up to bigger defence budgets and sharing the financial burden more equally.
But he didn’t give details about how much.
And not long after, French President Emmanuel Macron said no-one had agreed to any figure higher than what was in the leaders’ communique — 2 per cent by 2024 — a leaders’ statement that Donald Trump had signed the day before.
US President Donald Trump made the NATO remarks before flying to London. (Reuters: Kevin Lamarque)
So, after all the “will he, won’t he” drag the US out of NATO or punish it by boycotting a military exercise, the situation appeared to remain as it was.
It’s a typically Donald Trump approach to diplomacy and getting things done — he likes to sign pieces of paper that are largely symbolic, he attacks allies on Twitter but keeps sweet in person — and he sabre-rattles using the gravitas of the United States to get his way.
And he also craves credit when an outcome is reached.
The idea of demanding NATO members raise their financial contributions to 2 per cent of GDP isn’t new, nor all that controversial. It’s the ramifications of undermining the decades-old alliance — and threatening to leave it altogether — that has been cause for concern.
Some will say that an unpredictable president such as Donald Trump is the only American leader who could achieve these outcomes — because the fear is real. However, what does his repeated needling of allies mean for NATO?
It’s a question that’s brought into sharper focus just days before he’s set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And, a reminder, that for all the insults thrown and the agreements threatened over the past few years, seldom has Mr Putin caught the ire of Mr Trump.
Mr Trump said it’s stronger than it was two days ago. But what about two years ago?
He may have got his way again — but what of Donald Trump’s standing among the leaders?
They can’t have appreciated the public castigations but they’ve survived another day.
And as the leader of the bigger military power in the world they have to continue to work with Donald Trump and try to find a way to keep him happy.
US President Donald Trump broke rank with diplomatic protocol by addressing German Chancellor Angela Merkel by her first name. (AP: Pablo Martinez Monsivais)