Trump threatens to extend his trade war to NATO’s military laggards
Hans van Leeuwen

London | US President Donald Trump has threatened to open up another new front in his trade war with the rest of the world, threatening tariffs on the dozen-plus NATO members that haven’t met his demand to rev up their defence spending.

Mr Trump has been insistent that members of the trans-Atlantic military alliance each take a proportionate share of the burden, equivalent to 2 per cent of their GDP, and warned on Tuesday (Wednesday AEDT) that the laggards “are gonna be dealt with”.

‘They’ll be dealt with’ … US President Donald Trump warns NATO members who aren’t spending enough on defence. AP

“What I like about NATO is that a lot of countries have stepped up, really at my behest … they’ve stepped up and they’ve put up a lot of money, $US130 billion, that’s a lot, and they’re now stepping up again, it’s going to be $US400 billion,” he told a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron.

But for those who hadn’t stepped up? “Maybe I’ll deal with them from a trade standpoint, maybe I’ll deal with them in a different way. I’ll work something out where they have to pay. We don’t want to have people delinquent,” he said. “They make a fortune from trade and then they don’t pay their bills.”

The Canadian and Dutch prime ministers, Justin Trudeau and Mark Rutte, each told a public conference on the margins of the NATO gathering that they were “moving toward” 2 per cent.

“We are spending billions and billions more than a couple of years ago,” Mr Rutte said, pointing to a $US30 billion increase since 2016, and nine countries now hitting the 2 per cent target, up from four in 2018.

“He [Mr Trump] is right that we cannot have the US shoulder all the burden … He can point at the fact that since he’s president of the US, the investment on NATO on the non-US side has come up with this incredible number.”

The NATO meeting comes amid an identity crisis for the group. Mr Macron recently told the Economist the alliance was “brain dead”. Mr Trump has in the past called it “obsolete”. And Turkey is threatening to stymie any conclusions from the meeting unless leaders endorse its attacks on Kurdish forces formerly allied with the West.

Mr Trump also called on NATO to broaden its wings, focusing “not just one specific country” [Russia], but also “radical Islamic terrorism … the tremendous growth of China … lots of other things”.

Mr Macron said NATO had to agree on its strategic positioning – for example, it had to have a common definition of terrorism.

French President Emmanuel Macron was the target of Donald Trump’s ire, but the hatchet was partially buried at a joint press conference. AP

“Turkey are fighting against those who fought with us, shoulder to shoulder against ISIS. And sometimes they work with ISIS proxies. This is a strategic issue. If we just have a discussion about what we pay, and we don’t’ have clear discussions about the situation, we are not serious,” Mr Macron said.

Mr Trump said he’d meet Turkish President Recep Erdogan later that day. Mr Macron urged Turkey not to block consensus at the NATO leaders’ meeting scheduled for Wednesday morning (Wednesday evening AEDT).

Hans van Leeuwen covers British and European politics, economics and business from London. He has worked as a reporter, editor and policy adviser in Sydney, Canberra, Hanoi and London. Connect with Hans on Twitter. Email Hans at hans.vanleeuwen@afr.com

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