Before leaving the NATO summit in Brussels, Donald Trump held an unusually subdued press conference, where he seemed to make some news: according to the American president, he demanded that other NATO members increase their defense spending, and they agreed to do as he requested.
“We really accomplished a lot with respect to NATO. For years presidents have been coming to these meetings and talked about the expense, the tremendous expense, for the United States, and 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.
“Prior to last year where I attended my first meeting, it was going down, the amount of money being spent by countries was going down – and down very substantially – and now it’s going up very substantially.”
Under the blueprint adopted in 2014, after Russia invaded Crimea and Barack Obama made it clear that it was time for NATO members to invest more in national security, each member nation committed to spend at least 2% of its GDP on defense by 2024.
This morning, however, the American president declared, “Ultimately, that’ll be going up quite a bit higher than that.” Trump added, more than once, that NATO allies “substantially upped their commitment.”
There are a couple of things to keep in mind. For example, when Trump said defense spending among NATO members was “going down … very substantially” at the time of last year’s summit, that’s ridiculously untrue. Obama pressed member nations to increase defense spending four years ago, and that’s precisely what they did, long before Trump took office.
As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent explained in a very good piece yesterday, everyone involved was willing to let Trump take credit for the increases in recent years, though the Republican president has been reluctant to take yes for an answer.
This morning, his posture seemed to shift a bit, with Trump suggesting that NATO members bent to his will, agreeing to defense spending “at levels that they’ve never thought of before.”
Which leads to the other problem: the commitments the American president bragged about appear to exist only in his imagination.
NBC News reported, “[I]t was not clear that Trump had actually extracted any new concessions from U.S. allies. The leaders of the 29-member nations released a 79-point joint declaration Wednesday, and French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that Trump [had not] secured new promises to increase funding from his partners at the summit.”
Indeed, the Associated Press quoted some NATO heads of state saying the opposite of what Trump said about future commitments. “Italy has inherited spending commitments that we haven’t changed,” Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said. “So there is no additional spending.”
Macron added, that the official NATO communique “confirms the goal of 2 percent by 2024. That’s all.”
Maybe Trump is confused. Perhaps he’s lying. Maybe every other country in NATO tricked the amateur American leader into thinking something that isn’t true.
Whatever the explanation, I suspect one of two things will soon happen: either (a) Trump will simply start pretending that he scored a major triumph in Brussels, and he’ll expect everyone to play along as if his fiction were fact; or (b) he’ll soon publish one heck of an angry tweet.