April 13, 2017
Can NATO Meet Trump’s Expectations on Defense Spending?
By Ryan Browne, CNN
"I said it's obsolete," Trump said, referencing a favorite refrain. "Now it's no longer obsolete." He was speaking to reporters at the White House alongside NATO's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, after giving him a warm welcome and praising the organization as "the bulwark of international peace and security."
Trump's newfound enthusiasm for NATO brings him into alignment with a long-standing bipartisan consensus in Washington, exemplified by House Speaker Paul Ryan's announcement earlier Wednesday that he would lead a delegation of both Republicans and Democrats to visit key NATO members.
But Trump's about-face has more to do with those closest to him and the way Stoltenberg has focused on shared priorities with the new President, as well as the deterioration of another key relationship: that of the US and Russia….
During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly slammed the members -- 23 out of 28 -- that are not meeting the alliance's recommended defense spending levels of 2% of GDP.
But there has been progress on that front, too.
NATO announced that its members had boosted its overall non-US defense spending by 3.8%, or $10 billion, in 2016. Romania, Latvia and Lithuania -- all concerned about the ambitions of nearby Russia -- have all recently announced that they will meet the target next year.
Some experts think that Russia's military activities have been a bigger driver of defense spending increases than Trump's pressure, particularly among the alliance's eastern members.
Stoltenberg, however, expressed gratitude to Trump directly Wednesday for his emphasis on boosting allied defense spending.
"I thank you for your attention to this issue," he said. "We are already seeing the effects of your strong focus on the importance on burden-sharing in the alliance."
But the momentum might not last.
"Although (Stoltenberg) also wants Europe to spend more, he's only the political leader of the alliance," Jorge Benitez, the director of NATOSource told CNN. "He can't deliver on increases the way Trump wants him to."
The leaders of Europe and Canada would need to take the hard political decisions to boost defense spending, he said. "I don't think Europeans are taking this threat seriously enough."