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Trump's Rhetoric In Brussels


President Trump is overseas this week. He heads today to London. He then goes to Helsinki to meet with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin. But this morning, he's wrapping up events at the NATO summit in Brussels, where he has been criticizing U.S. allies over trade. He's also been pushing for major increases in defense spending from NATO countries. This is President Trump talking to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg over breakfast this week.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You know, we're protecting Germany. We're protecting France. We're protecting everybody. And yet, we're paying a lot of money to protect. Now, this has been going on for decades. This has been brought up by other presidents, but other presidents never did anything about it because I don't think they understood it or they just didn't want to get involved.

GREENE: I want to turn now to someone, Fabrice Pothier, who has been at his fair share of NATO meetings. He served as NATO's director of policy planning in the past. Thanks so much for coming on the program.

FABRICE POTHIER: Good morning.

GREENE: So when an American president is provocative to allies like he was towards Germany, what is the best way for allies to respond to that?

POTHIER: Well, there's no best way. I think what the allies are trying to do is a double act. On one hand, they're trying to push back on some of the most controversial, if not hostile, comments made by Trump, like we saw yesterday. We Chancellor Merkel's statement. And on the other hand, they are also trying to address some of his concerns, which are not totally ungrounded, especially on the weak defense spending in some of the European member states.

GREENE: You said weak defense spending, so you really do share his concern that a lot of countries are not spending enough and that the United States is carrying too much of the burden?

POTHIER: Well, I think even the European allies are sharing that concern. They are clearly aware since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 that they have to do more. They have to have more capable forces, and therefore, they have to inject more cash. But the problem is that the key country to really change the European defense picture, Germany, is still way, way below 2 percent. It's at 1.2 percent.

GREENE: Which is just not enough in the eyes of - well, let me ask you about some of these numbers because President Trump, I mean, we had this pledge since 2014 that the member nations would increase their defense spending to 2 percent of their GDP. So Germany is coming in below that, and they're so important. But it sounds like President Trump is now pushing member nations to not only meet this goal but to double and come up to 4 percent. We're getting reports this morning that NATO countries went into an emergency session to discuss this.

POTHIER: Absolutely.

GREENE: Is 4 percent feasible? Is 4 percent fair for the United States to ask?

POTHIER: Everything is relative. But first, the United States is not meeting 4 percent. Currently, they are 3.6 percent. So I think there's still a long way to go to beat 2 percent, especially, as I say, for Germany, but also Spain, Italy, Canada. So I think we - this is going to be a difficult discussion. What I can tell you is that it was a very difficult negotiation already in 2014 to get everybody to agree on 2 percent.

So I doubt there would be a firm agreement to go for 4 percent, but there might be a way to dodge the issue a typical NATO way which is let's accelerate the pace towards 2 percent. And then in 2020 or 20-something, let's agree on the plan for a higher target. That's, I think, how they will try to play it. But obviously, this will leave a lot of bad blood and very little trust among European leaders vis-a-vis Trump.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you about that. I mean, you say bad blood. I'm just trying so hard to figure out this meeting. I mean, you have these rants by President Trump. You obviously have some European leaders who are not fond of that sort of aggression from an American president. But it sounds like the countries all, you know, came to some substantive agreements during this meeting. So some are saying that the president of the United States is upending this alliance that's existed for nearly 70 years. Like, is that too drastic perhaps?

POTHIER: Well, actually, I think Trump has thrown NATO into a state of schizophrenia. On one hand, like you say, the decisions that the summit made, the communique is actually pretty solid. It's pretty good stuff. It's (unintelligible) to everything that has been done since 2014. But on the other hand, on the political end, you do have a real political crisis because you don't have unity. You have the main shareholder of the allies, the United States, that is in full disagreement with the other members. So how you breach that is a real question. Until what point that political crisis is not going to bring NATO to a standstill? That's the real question. And we have to see how, you know, what's the kind of compromise out of this emergency session. But I can imagine that there will be a lot of pushback. But there will also be an attempt to accommodate Trump's point.

GREENE: That is Fabrice Pothier. He is the former director of policy planning for NATO, talking to us about the NATO summit that is continuing this morning. Thank you so much for your time, we really appreciate it.

POTHIER: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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