President Trump seemed to adopt several different approaches to foreign politics during his summit with NATO countries, going from heavily criticizing the organization and its distribution of funds to saying that he and the U.S. remain committed to cooperate with its members.
During a closing speech, he stated: “The United States’ commitment to NATO is very strong, remains very strong. I believe in NATO.” While his rhetoric and approach to communication with allies may seem friendly and hopeful, many U.S. officials have stated that his attitude was severely different during the summit itself. According to an anonymous source from Trump’s team, the president may have threatened to leave the accord if other leaders didn’t increase their military spending before January. His rhetoric was unclear, since he stated that the U.S. would “go it alone” if the condition wasn’t fulfilled.
French President Emmanuel Macron adopted his usual diplomatic approach to politics when he addressed reporters to dismiss the comments. He stated: “Generally I do not comment on what goes on behind the scenes, but at no moment did President Trump, either in public or in private, threatened to withdraw from NATO.”
There is still uncertainty surrounding the validity of Trump’s retelling of the meeting. He mentioned that other NATO allies had agreed to drastically increase their funds for military spending. However, Macron and the Italian Prime Minister were eager to deny this, as NATO had merely decided to continue its project to increase military spending by two percent by the year 2024. They were not responding to Trump’s request at all, since the measure has been discussed and planned since 2014. Conte stated:
Italy inherited spending commitments to NATO, commitments that did not change, so no increase in spending. As far as we’re concerned, today we did not offer extra contribution with respect to what was decided some time ago.”
Trump still joined the other 28 world leaders in the signing of a declaration that reaffirmed their previous commitments. Including the 2024 deadline for their fund increase. In an unexpected way, he signed the document despite open criticism of Russia being included in it, profoundly condemning the annexation of Crimea and stating that the countries would not recognize said measure. This is also despite the fact that he told reporters that he was considering recognizing the annexation.
An important part of the document was the NATO Readiness Initiative, which is a military effort to create 30 land battalions, 30 aircraft squadrons and 30 warships within the next 30 days. The plan has been molded around a “30-30-30-30” scheme, and was designed as a strategy to withhold Russian aggression in Europe.
The overall performance of President Trump in the summit has left many allies confused, mostly because of his harsh rhetoric towards NATO and especially Germany in the days leading up to the summit. He accused the latter of being “captive to Russia”, signing trade agreements with Vladimir Putin’s administration. The declarations caused controversy due to the climate surrounding Trump’s Russia-related criminal investigation. Many have claimed that his anti-Russia approach during the summit could be an attempt to distract the public from the possible collusion he had with the country. However, he did not completely speak negatively about Russia during the past couple of days. Before getting into Air Force One, he stated that his meeting with Putin would be the “easiest” and the one he looked forward for the most.
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