By Andrew Rettman
US leader Donald Trump voiced half-hearted support for Nato and reprimanded allies over what he called unpaid debts in his big speech in Brussels on Thursday (25 May).
“We will never forsake the friends who stood by our side”, he said by reference to Nato support for the US after 9/11.
Most of his speech also criticised fellow leaders for not spending enough on defence.
“This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States and many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years,” he said.
Trump spoke at a Nato summit outside the alliance’s new HQ on his maiden trip to Europe after taking office four months ago.
His speech had been meant to allay concern after he described Nato as “obsolete” and said the US might not defend allies who did not pay their share.
It was also meant to reassure Europe that he would protect it from Russia.
He spoke next to a new memorial to 9/11, which he acknowledged had led to “invoking for the first time in its [Nato’s] history the Article 5 collective defence commitments.”
He observed a minute of silence for victims of last Monday's Manchester attack.
He said: “The Nato of the future must include a great focus on terrorism and immigration, as well as threats from Russia and on Nato’s eastern and southern borders.”
Trump also said another new memorial, to the fall of the Berlin Wall, was “a testament to the triumph of our ideals over a totalitarian Communist ideology”.
But he complained that “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying ... for their defence”.
German chancellor Angela Merkel said the Berlin Wall memorial reminded her that Nato “stability” and the “courage” of people in eastern Europe had ended Communism.
She said Nato was based on respect for “open societies built on common values”.
Earlier on Thursday, she had indicated that Germany wanted to count non-financial contributions toward its Nato commitment.
“In the future we will not only be asked, ‘How much is spent on defence?’ but also ‘What … skills do we have and what contributions do we make?’,” she said.
“We will also be welcoming the new Nato member Montenegro today”, she added.
Trump later belittled Montenegro’s prime minister, Dusko Markovic, by physically pushing him aside as the leaders took their places for photos.
Ivo Daalder, Washington’s former ambassador to Nato under the previous US administration, said Trump’s performance did little to reassure allies.
“Trump needed to say what every predecessor since [former US leader] Truman has said: The US is committed to Article 5. He didn’t. This is a major blow to the alliance”, Daalder said on Twitter.
Michael McFaul, Washington’s former ambassador to Moscow, said: “To help quell speculations about Russia-Trump ties from 2016, Trump could have easily said something tough about Russia at Nato. He didn’t”.
McFaul was referring to allegations that Trump colluded with Moscow in last year’s US elections.
He said Trump was undiplomatic on defence spending. “Some things best done behind closed doors”, he said.
But the US president was not the only controversial leader at Thursday’s event.
Turkey riftMerkel said she would tell Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan that unless he let German MPs visit German soldiers at a base in Incirlik in Turkey then the soldiers “must leave”.
“It’s indispensable for us because we have a parliamentary army that our soldiers can be visited by the members of the German Bundestag”, she said.
Germany and Turkey recently fell out over rallies by Turkish expats and over Erdogan's authoritarian rule.
The situation in Turkey was highlighted by the New York-based international NGO Human Rights Watch on Thursday.
“How can Turkey be a reliable counterterrorism ally at Nato summit when Erdogan treats all dissent as ‘terrorism’?,” the NGO’s head, Kenneth Roth, said.