Julian E. Barnes and Helene Cooper at NYT:
There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.
Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO: the withdrawal of the United States.
Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set.At a July 12 NATO meeting, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg surprised Trump.
Backing Mr. Trump’s position, Mr. Stoltenberg pushed allies to increase their spending and praised the United States for leading by example — including by increasing its military spending in Europe. At that, according to one official who was in the room, Mr. Trump whipped his head around and glared at American officials behind him, surprised by Mr. Stoltenberg’s remarks and betraying ignorance of his administration’s own spending plans.
Mr. Trump appeared especially annoyed, officials in the meeting said, with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and her country’s military spending of 1 percent of its gross domestic product.
By comparison, the United States’ military spending is about 4 percent of G.D.P., and Mr. Trump has railed against allies for not meeting the NATO spending goal of 2 percent of economic output. At the summit meeting, he surprised the leaders by demanding 4 percent — a move that would essentially put the goal out of reach for many alliance members. He also threatened that the United States would “go its own way” in 2019 if military spending from other NATO countries did not rise.
During the middle of a speech by Ms. Merkel, Mr. Trump again broke protocol by getting up and leaving, sending ripples of shock across the room, according to American and European officials who were there. But before he left, the president walked behind Ms. Merkel and interrupted her speech to call her a great leader. Startled and relieved that Mr. Trump had not continued his berating of the leaders, the people in the room clapped.Reagan foresaw the kinds of sentiments that Trump has been voicing. From a 12/7/88 speech to AEI:
I'm troubled by something else as well. The 1980's have been the glory years of the NATO alliance. The Soviet deployment of intermediate-range missiles presented NATO with its greatest challenge since the construction of the Berlin Wall, and the alliance not only survived but was vindicated by the signing of the INF treaty in Washington 1 year ago tomorrow. The NATO alliance is the best example we have to show the less fortunate peoples of the world how freedom and democracy create friendship and comity between peoples and nations. But 40 years after the North Atlantic Treaty, there are still some who question the alliance. Thus we hear, just months after the destruction of the first intermediate-range missile, that somehow the United States is being mistreated by our friends and allies. The argument they use is that our allies are not sharing the burden of their own defense equitably.
I agree that our NATO allies could be sharing the burden better. But we must also solve our economic disputes more fairly. But we must always remember the very real burden our allies bear that we never will. We must remember our allies perform a role that geography has forced upon them. They are literally on the front lines for the West. Our fortunate geography has kept the wars of the 20th century well away from the American mainland, but in Europe the memory is as fresh as the memories of a 50-year-old and the tales of a grandfather. Their soldiers, their children, their homes, their civilization itself hang in the balance every day. We cannot, we must not, forget this. And we should not give in to the temptation to transmute a small difference in a historic relationship into a major disagreement that might end up damaging the greatest foreign policy success of the postwar era.