Sun. Oct 20th, 2019

The Informer

Place where all voices matter

Live Updates: Trump at the NATO Summit

7 min read

Right Now: Trump to meet soon with NATO’s secretary general.

• President Trump is in Brussels for the start of a seven-day, three-nation European trip that highlights the ways he has utterly transformed United States foreign policy. The trip begins on Wednesday with the NATO summit meeting in Brussels.

• Mr. Trump will meet with NATO leaders after disparaging the alliance and some of its key members, particularly over military spending, as well as a broader web of international organizations and treaties disdained by the president.

• After the NATO summit meeting, the president will travel to Britain for a working visit, before wrapping up his trip on Monday in Helsinki, where he will meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

• Three New York Times reporters are covering Mr. Trump and the NATO meeting: Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Katie Rogers, White House correspondents, and Steven Erlanger, the chief European diplomatic correspondent.

NATO leaders are bracing for a contentious meeting, trying to figure out how to be polite but firm with a United States president who disparages multilateral alliances, and dispenses with the usual platitudes in favor of lashing out on Twitter.

Generations of United States policymakers have seen NATO as a bedrock of Western security, but Mr. Trump describes its members mostly as a bunch of freeloaders, riding on the coattails of American military spending without holding up their end of the deal.

“NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Tuesday, before departing for Brussels. He also reiterated the claim he has used to justify tariffs he recently imposed: That unfair practices are to blame for the U.S. trade deficit with Europe and other regions of the world.

Where his predecessors have spoken warmly of the allies and warned of Russian aggression, Mr. Trump has had harsh words for NATO, which he has called “obsolete,” and member countries like Canada and Germany, while rarely criticizing Russia.

Privately, leaders of other NATO countries wonder if the president just wants to goad them into raising military spending and strengthen the alliance, or if he would prefer to abandon it. Either way, his approach, using overt threats and insults, is a far cry from the usual diplomatic give-and-take, and his counterparts are wary of provoking Mr. Trump.

Aside from military spending, NATO allies are more at odds with American policy than they have been many years, disagreeing on issues like his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accords, and the trade war he has started.

Other American presidents have lamented that the United States spends more than its fair share on Western defense, but Mr. Trump puts it more bluntly: The country, he says, is being cheated by its allies.

“I’m going to tell NATO, ‘You got to start paying your bills,’ ” he said last week in Montana. “The United States is not going to take care of everything. We are the schmucks that are paying for the whole thing.”

The imbalance is real, but the arguments Mr. Trump makes and the figures he cites are misleading. NATO members agreed in 2014 that each nation should spend at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its military. Mr. Trump has accused others of failing to meet that commitment, and of owing NATO money as a result.

In fact, no one has failed to comply. The 2 percent figure is a target to be reached by 2024. According to NATO, all 29 member countries have significantly raised military spending since 2014, and eight of them are above or close to 2 percent.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, credited Mr. Trump for recent increases in other nations’ spending, saying on Tuesday that the president’s pressure “is clearly having an impact.”

Mr. Trump tweeted on Monday that the United States accounts for 90 percent of military spending by NATO countries; NATO says the actual figure is 66.5 percent, and according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, less than one-quarter of that spending is for European security. — Steven Erlanger

Perhaps nowhere is European fear about American intentions more pronounced than in the Baltic States — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Long ruled by the Russian giant to the east, these small nations gained their independence in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and they see a very real danger in Russia’s assertiveness under Mr. Putin.

The countries joined NATO in 2004 to ward off that threat, and the alliance has recently stationed troops in the Baltic States as a kind of tripwire for any Russian incursion.

But when asked two years ago, before he was elected, whether the United States would defend the Baltic countries against a Russian attack, Mr. Trump equivocated. “If they fulfill their obligations to us,” he said, “the answer is yes.”

There are significant ethnic Russian minorities in the Baltics, and people there are acutely aware that protecting Russians was the reason the Kremlin gave for its incursions into Ukraine.

With heads of state taking care not to poke Mr. Trump, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, has emerged as the continent’s most prominent and pointed critic of the president.

Mr. Tusk, one of the leaders of the European Union, has no formal role in NATO, but the two groups have a large overlap in membership. On Tuesday they signed a statement of cooperation.

Mr. Tusk has made clear that he is paying close attention to the summit, he has a megaphone, and he’s not afraid to use it. Tweaking and refuting Mr. Trump, often slyly and sometimes quite directly, his comments are widely seen to reflect what other European leaders are thinking but are unwilling to say publicly.

The United States “doesn’t have and won’t have a better ally than EU,” whose members combined spend more on defense than Russia, he tweeted on Wednesday. “I hope you have no doubt this is an investment in our security.”

In June, after Mr. Trump’s angry exit from the Group of 7 summit and his broadside at Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister who played host to that meeting, Mr. Tusk tweeted, “There is a special place in heaven for @JustinTrudeau.”

He used sharper language in May, after Mr. Trump withdrew from the Iran agreement and announced trade sanctions. Mr. Tusk tweeted, “with friends like that who needs enemies.”

Mr. Trump enjoys sending Twitter barbs at his adversaries, but he will be restrained during the NATO summit meeting.

In NATO’s new building, in the massive high-tech meeting room, no mobile phones are allowed — not even for a president. Even if they were permitted, they probably would not work, because NATO jams signals in the building to prevent eavesdropping or hacking.

So at least for the hours he is with other leaders, Mr. Trump will be under a cone of silence.

Mr. Trump will have to wait until he’s outside the NATO building to get to his Twitter account in order to reassure his many followers that he remains the @realdonaldtrump. — Steven Erlanger

When he visited the new NATO headquarters building last year, before it was fully opened, Mr. Trump made no secret of his distaste for the structure, which he deemed extravagantly expensive and vulnerable to bombing.

In delivering a speech at the time, he skipped the part of his prepared remarks that called for him to reaffirm Article 5, the commitment by all member nations to mutual defense. He has endorsed the principle, albeit grudgingly.

When Mr. Trump returns this year, he will enter the building after passing two monuments designed to highlight NATO history — a chunk of the Berlin Wall and a chunk of the World Trade Center. After the 2001 attack on the trade center, NATO invoked Article 5 for the only time in its history.

Outside the building are the words “WE ARE ALLIES,” shimmering in two-foot yellow and white letters on fences, and the famous NATO sculpture of a compass flanked by the flags of the 29 members. NATO intends to offer the soon-to-be-named Republic of North Macedonia talks to become the 30th member, once the change is ratified by the parliaments of both Greece and what has until recently been called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The new building itself is airy and light, with much modernized communications equipment, although the offices are smaller than in the old building across the way. The main meeting room, where the 29 leaders will meet, with room for many aides behind them, is large and even elegant, with wooden walls and various video screens for classified conferences.

But on a recent visit, allowed to enter the room but not take any photographs, it seemed to me the only thing missing was Peter Sellers in the film “Dr. Strangelove.” — Steven Erlanger

Military spending and NATO’s stance toward Russia will be central topics at the summit meetings, at a time when leaders of other Western countries worry about a reduced American security role in dealing with Moscow.

Russia is waging a proxy war against Ukraine, has forcibly annexed part of that country, has meddled in other nations’ elections, gives crucial support to the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and stands accused of using a chemical weapon on British soil.

After the NATO meeting, Mr. Trump will travel on Thursday to Britain, where he is scheduled to meet with Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Theresa May. He will spend little time in London, where thousands of people are expected to attend protests against the president, who is not popular in Britain. The American Embassy warned U.S. citizens to “keep a low profile” during his visit because of the protests.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump will travel to Scotland and stay at one of his golf resorts, Trump Turnberry. The next day, he will fly to Helsinki, before his meeting on Monday with Mr. Putin.

With Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign under investigation for links to Russia, and American relations with traditional allies strained, analysts will keep a close eye on whether a friendlier mood prevails when the two presidents meet.