President Trump's attitude and message at Thursday's NATO summit in Brussels has stirred controversy both in the U.S. and in Europe. European leaders who expected Trump to affirm the United States' support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were shocked when the U.S. president called them out for not paying their fair share, while suggesting that NATO's focus on Russia is obsolete and that the organization must instead turn its attention towards combating terrorism, reports Business Insider.
After these contentious comments combined with Trump's apparent shoving of Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic to create ample NATO drama, a crucial question had been raised. Is President Trump a socially inept bully intent on shutting out allies or is he a strong independent leader who refuses to tiptoe around the European elite?
The most talked-about aspect of the NATO summit was President Trump's apparently rude gesture towards Prime Minister Markovic. In the widely-shared video of the encounter, President Trump briskly walks towards the prime minister, grabs him by the arm, and walks in front of him before adjusting his jacket. While many of Trump's detractors are condemning the action as inappropriate and immature, Trump's supporters praise their president, stating that he exhibited the qualities of a true "alpha male."President Trump's arguably cavalier encounter with Markovic highlighted the theme of the day. For better or worse, Trump would refuse to cede power to the European leaders. Instead of following the tradition of endorsing Article 5 of NATO's founding document, which states that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all, Trump thanked NATO allies for invoking the "collective defense" commitments after the September 11, 2001 attack and stated that he would "never forsake the friends that stood by our side," according to Business Insider. Nicholas Burns and Ivo Daalder, both past U.S. ambassadors to NATO, condemned Trump's refusal to explicitly endorse Article 5, with Daaler opining that this omission was "a major blow to the alliance."
Instead, Trump focused his speech on the fact that many NATO members have not paid their fair share for their defense, staying true to his campaign promise to call out this lack of financial support. In the video of the speech, the mostly-European audience shifts uncomfortably as Trump conveys a direct message:
"Twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defense. This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States."The Telegraph reports that only five NATO members currently meet the 2006 financial commitment standards which require member nations to spend two percent of their GDP on defense. In 2014, NATO members promised to reach these standards by 2024. President Trump claimed that these nations "owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years."
Along with confronting NATO members on payment, President Trump boldly suggested that the 68-year-old institution change its basic mission. When the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949, its purpose was to serve as a counter-balance to the Soviet Union, reports Business Insider. With the Soviet Union dissolved, it is President Trump's assertion that a more appropriate target for the alliance is fighting Radical Islamic Terrorism. President Trump opened his Brussels speech with a reference to the recent Manchester attack, requesting a moment of silence from the audience before stating
"All people who cherish life must unite in finding, exposing, and removing these killers and extremists. And yes, losers. They are losers...Terrorism must be stopped in its tracks or the horror you saw in Manchester, and so many other places, will continue forever."Although Trump acknowledged that Russia is a threat, he stated that NATO should "focus on terrorism and immigration." This stance has rustled the feathers of some officials who are worried that Trump could eventually create a bilateral deal with Russia that could endanger NATO's interests, according to Business Insider. Trump's lack of concern over Russia echos statements that he made during the 2016 presidential campaign that NATO is "obsolete." With new threats to Europe from Radical Islamic Terrorism, the U.S. President hopes to convince the alliance to focus on an enemy that may be more relevant today.It is unknown what effect the U.S. president's speech and actions will have on the NATO members. However, President Trump has made it clear that his participation in and expectations of NATO will be anything but business as usual.
[Featured Image by Matt Dunham/AP Images]