BRUSSELS: At the end of a bewildering, roller-coaster NATO summit, the military alliance’s 29 nations somehow pledged continued unity and kept their long commitment to beef up defense spending amid a barrage of biting criticism from US President Donald Trump.
Even though Trump suggested he could probably withdraw the US from NATO if he wanted to, he conceded “that is unnecessary” because he felt his relentless hectoring had forced other nations to spend more than NATO’s long-term goal of 2 percent of GDP on defense.
Many even fail to meet the current benchmark.
Trump called it “a fantastic meeting,” speaking at a news conference on Thursday before flying to Britain.
Some NATO allies had not exactly heard the same conclusions as Trump around the table, and French President Emmanuel Macron immediately poured cold water on Trump’s spending ambitions for other allies.
“There is a communique that was published yesterday. It’s very detailed,” Macron said.
“It confirms the goal of 2 percent by 2024. That’s all.”
In the end, leaders left with an awkward consensus, after hours in which Trump had been so aggressive in his approach with allies that reports made the rounds that he might pull the US out.
“President Trump never at any moment, either in public or in private, threatened to withdraw from NATO,” Macron told reporters.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was a prime target of Trump over two raucous days. He accused her nation of being beholden to and a “captive” of Russia for a pipeline deal while at the same time presiding over an economy that seeks to rip off the United States.
By Thursday afternoon she left unruffled and unflappable as ever, telling reporters in Brussels that “there was a clear commitment to NATO by all.”
She said Trump raised the topic of better burden-sharing and more spending by Germany, “as has been discussed for months,” and that “we made clear that we’re on the way.”
Trump has several times assailed Germany for not spending a large enough proportion of its gross domestic product on defense.
Merkel, for her part, stressed that Germany is NATO’s second-biggest contributor when it comes to troops.
Tensions rose on the final day of the two-day summit, when members met in an emergency session amid demands from Trump to speed up defense spending.
“We are paying for far too much of NATO,” Trump said.
At the end though, Trump said the military alliance is “very unified, very strong, no problem.”
For an organization Trump once called “obsolete,” he said on Thursday: “I believe in NATO.”
Also on Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that Georgia will one day join the world’s biggest security alliance, despite separatist ambitions in parts of the former Soviet republic.
Stoltenberg said “Georgia will become a member of NATO.”
He said the 29-nation alliance supports the territorial integrity of Georgia, including its sovereignty over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in 2008, which led to the regions declaring independence. Russia has since been supporting them financially and militarily.
Despite Georgia’s important contribution to NATO operations, the alliance is unlikely to invite it in until the conflict with the two regions has been resolved.