US President Donald Trump has denounced NATO allies for failing to pay for their own defense as they gathered in front of him in Brussels, and accused members of the alliance of owing "massive amounts of money.”
Unveiling a memorial to the 9/11 attacks at NATO's new headquarters in Brussels, the businessman-turned-politician used the highest possible profile platform of his first NATO summit to directly castigate 23 of the 28 members for not spending enough on military.
“I have been very very direct with [NATO Secretary] Secretary Stoltenberg and members of the alliance in saying NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations,” he said.
"Twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they're supposed to be paying for their defense," he said as NATO leaders looked on with grim faces.
He suggested that states who had so far failed to reach the 2 percent of GDP funding threshold should make additional reparations in the coming years.
“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. And not paying in those past years,” Trump added.
Under a 2014 agreement, each NATO member should set aside two percent of their GDP for military purposes. However, only the US, Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland have so far been able to meet the target.
“We should recognize that with these chronic underpayments and growing threats even 2 percent of GDP is insufficient to close the gaps in modernizing readiness and the size of forces,” Trump continued.
“We have to make up for the many years lost – 2 percent is the bare minimum for confronting today’s very real and very vicious threats. If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, it would be even stronger than it is today, especially from the threat of terrorism,” he further said.
Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, had told European chiefs earlier this year that the US president wants "real progress" among NATO allies to increase their military spending towards the minimum criteria of two percent of their economic output by the end of the year.
But Trump’s speech on Thursday invoked memories of his earlier comments calling NATO "obsolete" and threatening that states that did not pay their way would not necessarily be defended.
“One; that it was obsolete because it was designed many many years ago, and number two; that the countries weren't paying what they're supposed to pay,” Trump noted in an interview with the German newspaper Bild,
Trump had reportedly called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to pay hundreds of billions of dollars Berlin owes to the NATO.
Trump handed the bill – thought to be for more than £300 billion (US$375 billion) —to Merkel during their March meeting in Washington, DC, the Sunday Times reported, citing an unnamed German minister.