LONDON — U.S. President Donald Trump warned Germany to up its military spending, or face unspecified trade sanctions.
Trump issued the warning on Tuesday while in London for a NATO leaders’ summit, and ahead of a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel scheduled for early Wednesday afternoon.
He said he expected Germany to ramp up its military spending. “They have to,” Trump said. “Otherwise, if they don’t want to, I’ll have to do something with respect to trade.”
It was a connection of two of Trump’s major gripes against Berlin and Brussels — that European military allies don’t spend enough on defense, and that the U.S. is unfairly disadvantaged in its trade relations with the EU. But tying the two together was a strange move even for the unpredictable U.S. president, who still doesn’t seem to quite grasp — or pretends not to — that allies do not pay money into NATO, but that contributions are measured by each country’s own national military spending.
Given the EU conducts trade policy collectively, it was also not clear how Trump might try to specifically target Germany for some sort of trade sanctions.
Trump’s remarks came while speaking to reporters before a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trump noted that Canada was not yet meeting the NATO target of annual military spending of 2 percent of GDP, but Trump said he was willing to give it time. Canada spends approximately 1.3 percent of its GDP on defense.
“Why is it they owe us for this year, but every time a new year comes up, they don’t have to pay?” — Donald Trump, U.S. president
“They’ll be OK; I have confidence; just slightly delinquent,” Trump said. “Some are major delinquent. Some are, some way below 1 percent and that’s unacceptable. And then, if something happens, we’re supposed to protect them, and it’s not really fair. And it never has been fair.”
Trump then turned his fire on Germany, the wealthiest NATO ally after the United States, though Berlin’s annual military spending, according to NATO figures, is projected to be 1.38 percent of GDP and it has been comfortably above 1 percent since at least 2014. Germany has pledged to meet the 2-percent goal (which is a voluntary, not mandatory target) by 2031.
‘They owe us money’
Responding to a question, Trump declined to commit to defending allies that don’t meet the NATO spending target, though in his overall remarks he seemed to accept that obligation.
In his reply, he repeated a claim he has made previously that allies who have not met the 2-percent target collectively “owe” trillions to the U.S. and other allies who have met the goal.
“For instance, if you have a country that’s paying only 1 percent, and you have some that are paying less than 1 percent, and they shouldn’t be — you have some that are paying less than 1 percent — and they’re wealthy countries, on top of everything,” Trump said. “Now we go to a new year, and they don’t pay. And now we go to yet another year, and they don’t pay. Well, now, I ask you: Do they have to pay for the back years, OK?”
He continued: “Why is it they owe us for this year, but every time a new year comes up, they don’t have to pay? It’s wrong. It’s not right. I could say that you go back 25 years.”
Turning to Trudeau, he said: “I won’t do that with Canada, of course.”
Trump then went on to describe the 2-percent target as “very low,” saying that it “should be 4 percent,” before refocusing on Germany.
“If Germany as an example is paying 1 percent, and they are supposed to be paying 2 percent, you are talking about billions of dollars. Well, that means that last year, the year before, the year before, all of those years, they would owe us money,” he said. “Nobody has ever brought that up. They just keep talking about the present. So if they are short one year and then you go into the new year, they never talk about the year they didn’t pay. But they actually in theory owe us that money. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.”
Germany has pushed back on Trump’s repeated demands for faster increases in defense spending, saying that national military spending is just one way to measure contributions to the alliance.
Berlin also recently supported a change to NATO’s annual common funding — the relatively small budget that covers expenses such as electricity and salaries at the alliance headquarters in Brussels.
Under the new formula, the U.S. and Germany will pay identical amounts — roughly 16 percent of the total, or about €380 million currently. While those are relatively tiny amounts, it allows Berlin to state, accurately, that Germany pays as much as the U.S. for NATO’s annual central operating expenses.
Trump has infuriated Germany and other allies in the past with his claims of being “owed” money as if debts were being accrued.
The three European allies still spending less than 1 percent of GDP on defense are Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg.