Trump attack on Germany bewilders Nato allies
US president depicts Germany as ‘a captive of Russia’ over disputed gas pipeline deal
The transatlantic alliance took an unprecedented political battering on Wednesday when Nato’s largest member, the US, delivered a broadside against its largest European member, Germany, at a Brussels summit.
Casting Germany as “a captive of Russia” over a controversial gas pipeline deal, US president Donald Trump also laid into what he saw as the equivocal commitment of European members of the alliance and Germany to their own defence, which he called an “unfair” burden on US taxpayers.
At the summit talks he then demanded that they raise their defence spending to the 4 per cent of GDP that he claimed the US was spending (actually 3.5 per cent). Nato requires a commitment of 2 per cent by 2024; only eight members currently reach it.
Mr Trump told journalists before the 29 leaders met it was “very inappropriate” that the US was paying for European defence against Russia while Germany, the biggest European economy, was supporting gas deals with Moscow.
In a robust response to her wayward ally, chancellor Angela Merkel denied his claims, saying Germany made its own independent decisions and policies and insisted it does a lot for Nato. “Germany is the second largest provider of troops, the largest part of our military capacity is offered to Nato and until today we have a strong engagement towards Afghanistan. In that we also defend the interests of the United States. ”
She said that her upbringing in East Germany meant she could remember the time when some Germans really were under the control of Russia.
Mr Trump met Dr Merkel later and said they had a “very, very good relationship”. But that relationship has been fractious for some time – not coincidentally, she is the western leader most willing to stand up to him.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas told reporters: “We’re not captive, neither to Russia nor to the USA. We’re one of the guarantors of the free world, and that will remain the case.”
Asked if he shared Mr Trump’s view of German subservience to Moscow, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, simply said “non, non”. John Kerry, the Democratic former US secretary of state, said Mr Trump’s comments were “disgraceful”, “destructive” and counter to US interests.
Mr Trump’s attempt to link what most see as a trade issue – German support for a Russian pipeline under the Baltic, Nord Stream 2 – with his apparently wavering commitment to European defence will have caused alarm.
In response, other Nato leaders and its secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, went to some lengths to insist that Nato members’ defence spending is up across the board.
Mr Trump is travelling on to the UK on Thursday for an official visit, and he then heads to Helsinki on Monday where he will meet Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.
On Wednesday over dinner Nato leaders will have been hoping to get assurances that he will be a least as tough on the Russian president as he has been with the German chancellor.