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Stung By Trump At G-7, Allies Look For Better Outcome At NATO Summit

Jul 9, 2018
Originally published on July 10, 2018 6:30 am

NATO leaders are hoping their summit in Brussels this week will not suffer the same fate as last month's Group of 7 meeting, which unraveled over trade disputes with President Trump.

"They are still licking their wounds from what happened at the G-7," said Julie Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. "They're looking for an opportunity to kind of put forward a counter-narrative that the trans-Atlantic partners are united."

But with tensions still running high between the U.S. and its allies, unity may be hard to come by.

Trump will travel to Brussels for the NATO meeting on Tuesday.

The G-7 summit ended with Trump lashing out at the other members and threatening to stop all trade with them if they didn't change their practices.

Trump ultimately refused to sign on to a joint agreement with the group because he was unhappy with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's comments at a closing press conference.

The row at the G-7 was followed by Trump's historic meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Trump's praise of Kim after those talks stood in stark contrast to the harsh rhetoric he directed to Trudeau and the other G-7 leaders.

Trump argues Europe and Canada are taking advantage of the United States and NATO is a part of that problem. He says the United States is shouldering too much of the defense burden for the alliance.

"I'm going to tell NATO: You've got to start paying your bills. The United States is not going to take care of everything," Trump said at a recent campaign rally in Montana.

NATO countries have set a goal of spending 2 percent of their GDP on the military, but only a handful of countries have actually met that target.

While defense spending has increased across the alliance, Trump says not enough has been done.

Prior U.S. administrations have pressed Europe to invest more in its defense, but the matter has typically been handled by other officials in the government, said Ted Bromund, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

"What's new is that this time, it's the president saying it and saying it very bluntly," Bromund said. "And in diplomacy that does end up changing the message and makes it sound much more serious and much more pressing."

Some analysts say Trump's expectations for how fast NATO can ramp up military funding are unrealistic. Smith, who served as a national security adviser for then-Vice President Joe Biden, said Trump does not seem to understand the amount of planning it takes for some of these governments to expand their budgets.

Increasing defense spending "does not happen overnight," Smith said. "It's not a light switch. You don't turn it on and off."

Worry over meeting with Putin

Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, a few days after the NATO summit. The Trump-Putin meeting is also a source of anxiety for members of the alliance, who hope to deter aggressive actions from Russia.

There is concern that Trump could be complimentary of Putin, in much the same way he was with North Korea's Kim.

Another serious worry is that Trump will offer Putin concessions without consulting with NATO partners. When Trump met with Kim, he agreed to stop military exercises with South Korea, without giving South Korea any advance notice.

The White House has tried to tamp down any expectations of a grand bargain being worked out during the Helsinki meeting. Still, even if no deal is reached, the summit could be a boost to Putin.

"Everything the president says that's positive about Russia and negative about the European alliance ... Putin will play that over and over again in his domestic TV audience to show how he's made Russia so great," said Evelyn Farkas of the Atlantic Council. "It will be a victory for President Putin."

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump is on his way to Brussels this morning for a summit with NATO allies. He has a message for them, which he explained at a recent campaign rally in Montana.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'll see NATO, and I'm going to tell NATO, you've got to start paying your bills; the United States is not going to take care of everything.

(CHEERING)

MARTIN: Soon after the NATO summit, President Trump will meet face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe reports on why U.S. allies are nervous that Trump's approach to both summits may give them a bad case of deja vu.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: The United States' partners in NATO do not want a repeat of the G-7 meeting in Canada last month. That's where President Trump refused to sign an agreement with the group because he was upset with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: He had a news conference that he had because he assumed I was in an airplane and I wasn't watching. He learned that's going to cost a lot of money for the people of Canada.

RASCOE: After lashing out at Trudeau and other U.S. allies over trade, Trump held a historic meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Those talks ended with Trump lavishing praise on Kim.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What did you learn about him, sir?

TRUMP: I learned he's a very talented man.

RASCOE: U.S. allies worry a rift at the NATO summit could be followed by a positive meeting between Trump and the Russian president. That could be damaging after what happened at the G-7.

KATHLEEN HICKS: I think the stakes are much higher.

RASCOE: Kathleen Hicks worked on a study about funding NATO for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

HICKS: That's almost one strike versus two strikes. I think having two strikes inside the transatlantic relationship would be very, very devastating.

RASCOE: Hicks says if Trump's talks with Putin look friendlier than his talks with NATO, that's a problem. NATO needs to appear united if they want to deter bad actors - bad actors like Russia. Unity will be tough at the summit. That's because Trump has been publicly bashing NATO members over their defense spending. At his recent rally in Montana, Trump said he confronted Germany's leader, Angela Merkel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: And I said, you know, Angela, I can't guarantee it, but we're protecting you, and it means a lot more to you than protecting us because I don't know how much protection we get by protecting you.

RASCOE: NATO countries set a goal of putting 2 percent of their gross domestic product toward defense spending, but only a handful have met that goal. Germany is not one of them. Ted Bromund of The Heritage Foundation says this is not the first U.S. administration to complain about Europe not contributing enough, but...

TED BROMUND: What's new is that this time, it's the president saying it and saying it very bluntly. And in diplomacy, that does end up changing the message. It makes it sound much more serious and much more pressing.

RASCOE: While Bromund feels the NATO meeting is worthwhile, he has concerns about Trump's meeting with Putin. U.S. presidents have been trying and failing for years to forge a better relationship with Russia, and Bromund believes Trump will fail, too. But Trump says the U.S. would benefit from being on better terms with the Russian leader. He even floated the idea that Russia could rejoin the G-7. Here he is on Fox News explaining why would it help to have Putin at the table.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

TRUMP: I could say, would you do me a favor? Would you get out of Syria? Would you do me a favor? Would you get out of the Ukraine - get out of Ukraine? You shouldn't be there. Just come on.

RASCOE: One big concern for NATO allies is that Trump could reach a deal with Putin without consulting them, just as Trump did with Kim Jong Un, making concessions without telling South Korea ahead of time. For its part, the White House is trying to tamp down expectations about the Trump-Putin summit next week. Here's National Security Adviser John Bolton.

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JOHN BOLTON: I don't think we expect necessarily specific outcomes or decisions.

RASCOE: Even without a deal, the meeting could play into Putin's agenda, so says Evelyn Farkas of the Atlantic Council.

EVELYN FARKAS: Everything the president says is positive about Russia and Putin and negative about the European alliances. Putin will play that over and over again on his domestic TV audience to show how he's made Russia so great.

RASCOE: And what is great for Russia may not be so great for NATO. Ayesha Rascoe, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'INDECIS' "STAYING THERE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.