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How President Trump's Criticism Of NATO Members Is Playing Out In Europe


No one expected that when President Trump sat down with the other leaders of the NATO member countries in Brussels this week that things would be all cordial. And sure enough, things instantly became tense when President Trump kicked the day off by attacking Germany over a pipeline deal it cut with Russia.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where you're supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia.

CHANG: Trump also continued blasting the member countries for failing to meet defense spending targets.


TRUMP: The United States is paying far too much, and other countries are not paying enough.

CHANG: To talk about how all of this is playing out in Europe, we are joined by Rachel Rizzo of the Center for a New American Security. She joins us from Brussels. Thanks for talking to us.

RACHEL RIZZO: Thank you for having me on.

CHANG: So if you had to write a headline describing what went down on the first day of this NATO summit, what would that headline be?

RIZZO: I would probably say President Trump achieved his goal of rattling our allies. It was no surprise that he entered this summit today with a goal of making our allies nervous. This is something that he's done many times in the past. And he did that in a number of ways. He said that Germany is totally controlled by Russia. He excoriated our allies, specifically Germany, for not spending enough on defense. And then it's been reported that he said maybe we should even up the defense spending target of 4 percent of GDP instead of 2 percent, which is really interesting because that's not even what the United States spends.

CHANG: Right...

RIZZO: So...

CHANG: ...'Cause going into the summit, President Trump was pushing the other countries to spend 2 percent of their GDP...

RIZZO: Exactly.

CHANG: ...On defense. He upped it to four. How are people reacting to that bit, the 2 to the 4 percent jump?

RIZZO: Well, it's interesting because the 2 percent goal has been around for years. It was reaffirmed back in the Wales summit in 2014. But it's tough because it's sort of an arbitrary number given that it doesn't adequately represent the impact or the contributions that NATO allies actually make to the alliance's mission of collective defense. So while it's an easy target to point to, it doesn't necessarily adequately represent how they contribute to NATO.

CHANG: How much criticism are these other members willing to put up with from the U.S. president? I mean, could there be any consequences for the U.S. if things get too divisive, or does the U.S. have all the leverage here?

RIZZO: Well, I think that what you've seen in this summit is that allies are beginning to shift their messaging a bit. They're not trying to convince the president or the United States that they're upping their defense spending, but they're trying to show that they are making an impact.

For example, the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, today said that the Canadians would lead a new training mission in Iraq that NATO is hosting for this - that they decided on this upcoming summit. So you can see that they're shifting away from, you know, trying to prove that they're spending to proving that they are actually making an impact, which is I think more important.

CHANG: As you mentioned, President Trump singled out Germany this morning, accusing it of being too beholden to Russia because of an energy deal between the two countries. I know Germany is pushing back on that, and we'll hear more about that later in the program. But let me just ask you. How much does Russia figure into the thinking and conversations now among the alliance members?

RIZZO: Well, it's interesting because Trump has a meeting with Putin coming up on the 16th. And so that's on everyone's mind. You know, Stoltenberg has said that we're trying to project a message of unity at this summit. And so the fact that Trump is meeting with Putin in just a few days is definitely on the forefront of everyone's mind here in Brussels.

CHANG: OK, Rachel Rizzo of the Center for a New American Security, thank you very much.

RIZZO: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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