President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel plans to subpoena Trump lawyer who advised on how to overturn election Texans chairman apologizes for 'China virus' remark Biden invokes Trump in bid to boost McAuliffe ahead of Election Day MORE on Thursday said the U.S. remains committed to the NATO alliance after a summit in which he said allies bowed to his demands to increase defense spending.
“The United States's commitment to NATO is very strong, remains very strong,” Trump said during a news conference before leaving the summit site in Brussels.
The president had thrown the summit into crisis mode by scolding allies for not spending enough money on defense and reportedly raising doubts about whether the U.S. would withdraw from the transatlantic alliance it helped create.
Trump suggested the U.S.’s continued involvement in the mutual defense pact depends on whether he feels other members, in his view, no longer treat the U.S. unfairly by failing to meet defense spending targets.
“Yesterday, I let them know that I was extremely unhappy,” Trump said. “Now I'm very happy. We have a very strong NATO, much stronger than two days ago.”
He said that is because European nations agreed to boost their spending on defense.
“Tremendous progress has been made. Everyone’s agreed to substantially up their commitment. They’re going to up it at levels that they’ve never thought of before,” the president said.
Trump did not provide specifics on which countries agreed to increase spending, or by how much, only saying that “the commitment was at 2 percent, ultimately that’ll be going up quite a bit higher than that.”
NATO member nations agreed in 2014 to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic products (GDP) on defense by 2024. But only four of the alliance’s 29 countries have already met that target. NATO has said 15 are on pace to reach the goal.
Trump on Wednesday told other leaders behind closed doors he wants them to spend 4 percent of their GDPs on defense, a target even the U.S. does not meet. He later pressed allies to hit the 2 percent goal "immediately," rather than through a gradual increase.
It remains unclear if any commitments were made to accelerate spending. French President Emmanuel Macron denied that NATO allies will increase defense spending beyond previously set goals, according to The Associated Press.
Multiple reports indicated that Trump threatened to withdraw from NATO if other countries did not commit to a spending hike. The president did not deny those reports during his press conference, instead saying he was “very firm” with allies.
“I think I can probably can [pull out of NATO], but that’s unnecessary, and the people have stepped up today like they’ve never stepped up before,” Trump added.
Trump’s fixation on defense spending dominated the two-day NATO summit. He has publicly berated countries such as Germany and Spain for failing to spend more on defense while questioning the usefulness of the alliance, which helps underpin the post-World War II international order.
“Presidents have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Germany and other rich NATO Nations to pay more toward their protection from Russia,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning. “They pay only a fraction of their cost. The U.S. pays tens of Billions of Dollars too much to subsidize Europe, and loses Big on Trade!”
In a subsequent tweet, Trump again took aim at Germany for agreeing to build a natural gas pipeline with Russia, calling the deal “not acceptable” and demanding that “all NATO Nations must meet their 2% commitment, and that must ultimately go to 4%!”
Trump’s criticism of Germany for its ties to Russia comes as he faces scrutiny for his overtures toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.
European allies fear that Trump’s demands of NATO, combined with his friendly tone toward Russia, could undermine the alliance that was designed to counter Moscow.
Trump is scheduled to meet with Putin in Helsinki on Monday at the conclusion of his European trip.
The president during his news conference on Thursday reiterated his belief that Putin is neither a friend nor foe, rather a “competitor.”
“So, in a sense, we're competitors,” Trump told reporters. “It's not a question of friend or enemy. He's not my enemy. And hopefully some day maybe he'll be a friend. It could happen.”
--Updated at 8:42 a.m.