US President Donald Trump has written to several leaders of Nato member states demanding that they increase their defence spending. As the security alliance prepares to meet next week in Brusels at Nato’s new headquarters, it has emerged that Germany, Belgium, Canada, Norway and the United Kingdom, among other member states, have received pointed letters from Mr Trump informing them that the existing arrangement “is no longer sustainable” for the US.
The letter with the harshest wording was reportedly delivered to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who held talks with Mr Trump at the White House in April. "As we discussed during your visit in April, there is growing frustration in the United States that some allies have not stepped up as promised", Mr Trump wrote to Ms Merkel, according to a witness who shared the letter's contents with the New York Times. "The United States continues to devote more resources to the defence of Europe when the continent's economy, including Germany's, are doing well and security challenges abound."
Mr Trump accused Germany, Europe’s largest economy, of setting a detrimental example: “Continued German underspending on defence undermines the security of the alliance and provides validation for other allies that also do not plan to meet their military spending commitments, because others see you as a role model.”
Even Britain, Washington’s closest military ally, has not been spared Mr Trump’s ire. A presidential letter has also been sent to London, which was already in receipt of correspondence addressed last month to British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson by James Mattis, the US Secretary of Defence, warning him that France could replace the UK as Washington’s “partner of choice” if it did not up its defence expenditure.
Analysts have expressed alarm that any division among allies would work to the advantage of Russian president Vladimir Putin, whose longstanding criticism of Nato has been amplified by his American counterpart. The two leaders will meet in Finland in the week following the Nato summit.
The US has been the bedrock that has underpinned Europe’s post-war security. Mr Trump, however, has expressed doubts about Nato’s utility, branded it “obsolete” and accused other member states of profiting off of Washington’s gullibility. At last year’s summit, he bluntly told Nato members that they must “finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations”. The US taxpayer, he said, could no longer afford to “carry a disproportionate share of the defence of Western values”.
Financial contributions to Nato are determined by a complex mechanism that takes each member state’s national income into account. Roughly a quarter of Nato’s budget comes from the US. In 2006, Nato members agreed to a guideline that called for 2 per cent of their GDP to be spent on national defence, before setting themselves the goal in 2014 to move towards that target by 2024.
Mr Trump’s missives have elicited anger in European capitals. "I am not very impressed by this type of letter”, said Belgium’s prime minister Charles Michel. Mr Trump will fly to London from Brussels to hold talks with Prime Minister Theresa May. An audience with the Queen is on the US president’s itinerary. The British government, however, has blocked Nigel Farage, arguably Mr Trump’s favourite Englishman, from going anywhere near the US President.