President Donald J. Trump responds to a question from a member of the news media during a joint news conference with Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel in Washington, DC on 17 March 2017.
MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA

Trump doesn’t understand NATO nearly as well as he thinks he does

Donald Trump has a variety of bad habits, but one of the more jarring is his tendency to comment on things he knows practically nothing about.

Trump loves to share his thoughts on the Affordable Care Act, for example, despite not understanding it in any meaningful way. He’s had all kinds of things to say about “Brexit,” even after admitting, “I don’t think anybody should listen to me because I haven’t really focused on it very much.”

And then, there’s NATO. The president shared some thoughts via Twitter over the weekend that were notable because they offered fresh evidence of Trump’s confusion about another issue he claims to take seriously.
“Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”
Trump’s hostility towards the NATO alliance is well documented – he called NATO “obsolete” as recently as January – but the president’s latest online missive suggests he still doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Germany does not, in reality, owe “vast sums of money to NATO.” As the New York Times reported, in a very polite way, “The message was misleading because no nation actually ‘owes’ money to NATO; its direct funding is calculated through a formula and paid by each of the 28 nations that are members. Mr. Trump may have been referring to the fact that Germany, like most NATO countries, falls short of the alliance’s guideline that each member should allocate 2 percent of its gross domestic product to military spending, but that money is not intended to be paid to NATO or to the United States.”

Ivo Daalder, the former U.S. Permanent Representative on the NATO Council, explained in a series of tweets over the weekend, “Sorry Mr President, that’s not how NATO works.”

The broader question, meanwhile, is why Trump doesn’t know that. He’s been screwing up basic NATO details for over a year. He spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel about NATO as recently as Friday. I don’t expect any president to know everything, but if Trump has an interest in NATO, has firm opinions about NATO, and is tweeting about NATO, it’s not too much to ask that he’d have some rudimentary understanding of the issue.

Donald Trump, Foreign Policy and Germany

Trump doesn't understand NATO nearly as well as he thinks he does