WATFORD, United Kingdom (AFP) – US President Donald Trump launched a two-day NATO meeting Tuesday with a blistering attack on France’s criticism of the alliance and on “delinquent” members that don’t pay their way.
At a news conference held to celebrate NATO’s success in cajoling European allies to boost their defence spending, Trump could not resist lashing out at President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron had tried to shake up the agenda for the London summit by branding the 70-year-old Western alliance “brain dead”, but Trump slapped him down and warned that he could see Paris “breaking away” from NATO.
“NATO serves a great purpose,” Trump said, at a joint press appearance with alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“I think that’s very insulting,” he said of Macron’s comment, branding it a “very, very nasty statement” essentially to 28 countries.
“Nobody needs NATO more than France,” he said. “It’s a very dangerous statement for them to make.”
Asked whether the US alliance with NATO was shaky, Trump denied it, but said: “I do see France breaking off … I see him breaking off.”
Trump defended Stoltenberg, boasting that NATO members have massively increased their defence spending thanks to his pressure – but then reiterated his complaints about European spending.
“When I came in, I was angry at NATO, and now I’ve raised 130 billion dollars,” Trump said, referring to the sum Stoltenberg says Canada and European members will have added to defence budgets by next year.
“And yet you still have many delinquents – you know I call them delinquent when they’re not paid up in full,” he said. Only nine of NATO’s 29 members spend two percent of their GDP on defence.
Trump cited in particular Germany as falling short, spending only one to 1.3 percent.
Leaders of the 29 allies are descending on London to lock horns over spending and how to deal with Russia in a major test of unity as NATO seeks to assert its relevance.