BRUSSELS: A senior European Union official lashed out on Tuesday at President Donald Trump, lambasting the US leader’s constant criticism of European allies and urging him to remember who his friends are when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin next week.
On the eve of a Nato summit meant to showcase the West’s unity and resolve to counter Russia, European Council President Donald Tusk directed a remark at Trump, saying “it is always worth knowing who is your strategic friend and who is your strategic problem.”
Nato is keen to damp down trans-Atlantic differences during the two-day summit at its Brussels headquarters, despite divisions among the alliance’s 29 members over Trump’s policies on trade and his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and an international climate agreement.
Tusk’s pointed observation, offered as he signed a joint declaration with Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, is unlikely to be the only rhetorical salvo fired this week.
“America does not have and will not have a better ally than Europe today,” Tusk said. “Europeans spend on defence many times more than Russia and as much as China, and I think you can have no doubt, Mr President, that this is an investment in common American and European defence and security, which cannot be said with confidence about Russian or Chinese spending.” Trump regularly has criticised his Nato allies for failing to spend the target of two per cent of gross domestic product on national defence budgets. He tweeted on Tuesday morning: “Getting ready to leave for Europe. First meeting Nato. The US is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them.”
On Monday the US president tweeted that “NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair!” He is expected to repeat his demands for more military spending on Wednesday.
Tusk, too, urged Nato members in Europe to increase defence spending as they promised, but he rejected Trump’s claim that Washington is doing all the work.
“Dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don’t have all that many,” he said.
The former Polish prime minister, who these days chairs summits of EU leaders and will take part in the Nato meeting, recalled that Europe stood at Washington’s side after the Sept. 11 attacks, and that 870 European troops have fought and died in Afghanistan, including 40 from Poland.
“Mr President, please remember about this tomorrow when we meet at the Nato summit. But above all, when you meet President Putin in Helsinki” on July 16, Tusk said.
Stoltenberg has the challenging task of chairing the first major gathering of western leaders since a Group of Seven meeting last month ended with Trump insulting the host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Stoltenberg praised Trump for spurring the allies into action. The Nato chief said that the Europeans and Canada are projected to spend around $266 billion more on defense by 2024.
“I would like to thank President Trump for his leadership on defense spending. It is clearly having an impact,” Stoltenberg said.
Of the divisions and tensions likely to be in attendance at the Brussels meeting, he conceded that “there are disagreements and different views, and I expect actually also honest and frank discussions during the summit. But I strongly believe that Nato can continue to be the cornerstone of trans-Atlantic security despite those disagreements.”
Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2018