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NATO’s Stoltenberg Urges Greater Spending In Address

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Trump has been particularly focused on the idea that the U.S. bears an unfair share of the burden to protect Europe—an argument that resonated with his core voters in the 2016 presidential campaign and is part of his broader complaint that the U.S. had been exploited in trade pacts and in a host of dealings with other nations. Europeans have actually been stepping up spending since the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2015, although Trump has taken credit for some of the increases, with Stoltenberg’s encouragement. Still, Trump has continued to insist that the allies meet a defense-spending target they all said they’d aim for back in 2014—when each country committed to move toward spending 2 percent of GDP on defense, without specifying a timeline.

Germany has recently been a flashpoint in this debate, and it shows why it’s difficult even for a wealthy country to simply raise defense spending. Vice President Mike Pence met privately with German officials in Munich in February, and pressed them to boost their country’s financial contribution to NATO. Germany is wealthy enough to comply with the 2-percent goal, administration officials believe.

When Pence made his case, his German counterparts balked, citing their own domestic politics, according to a White House official familiar with the matter. And they made clear it could be years before they were able to raise military spending levels.

The German position was very much, “‘Thank you for what you’re doing. We need you to do more because our own domestic politics makes it impossible for us to get there,’” the White House official said.

In an Oval Office meeting on Tuesday with Stoltenberg, the president returned to the same sore point: Germany. The country, he told reporters, is “not paying what they should be paying.”

Appearing at a NATO summit meeting in Brussels last year, Trump upbraided Germany for its natural gas pipeline deal with Russia. He tweeted: “What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy. Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade.”

One Western diplomat told The Atlantic that Trump should avoid the appearance of bullying Germany on military spending. Such aggressive messages can boomerang. The diplomat said that “it can actually be harder for Germany to spend more if it looks as though they are bowing to U.S. pressure.”

Apart from that, Trump’s tight focus on the 2 percent goal minimizes other contributions that aren’t measured in financial terms.

“As an example,” the diplomat said, “Greece has met the 2 percent threshold, Denmark has not. However, Denmark has sacrificed a significant amount and has been an invaluable member of the alliance.”

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