Trump’s Awkward Meeting with Angela Merkel just got More Cringeworthy

by Laurel Raymond –

Trump reportedly handed the Chancellor an invoice for what he thinks Germany “owes” NATO and the U.S.

President Donald Trump’s meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel was always going to be awkward. Trump rode to office on a wave of nationalistic populism and has openly slammed NATO, one of the key alliances binding the U.S. and Germany, while Merkel has been a staunch defender of the global world order. During his campaign, Trump even levied Merkel’s name as an insult, sneering that his opponent Hillary Clinton wanted to be “America’s Angela Merkel.”

Nonetheless, Trump took to Twitter the day after the chilly meeting to defend his “GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel” despite “FAKE NEWS” claiming otherwise, before reiterating his claim Germany owes NATO money for its defense — a claim that is profoundly ignorant of how NATO works.

Now, the Times of London is reporting that Trump went a step further at the Washington meeting, and printed out an invoice for what Germany “owes” and handed it to the Chancellor.

Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Nevertheless, Germany owes…..

Trump has long criticized other NATO members for not spending enough money on defense, claiming that it leaves the U.S. to pick up the slack. NATO guidelines proscribe that member nations spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, a target that Germany and most members fall short of.

Meanwhile, the U.S. spends more on its military than any other country in the world — in 2016, the U.S. spent 3.6 percent of GDP on the military, well above NATO’s guideline.

That doesn’t mean, however, that countries that fall short owe the United States anything, or that the U.S. pays more because they pay less — the U.S. decides on its own how much money it wants to spend on the military.

And, the military spending doesn’t all go directly to NATO — that is, the U.S.’s 600 billion plus military budget is not directly handed over to NATO.

“This is not a financial transaction, where NATO countries pay the US to defend them. It is part of our treaty commitment,” Ivo Daalder, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO, tweeted in response to Trump’s claims.

“All NATO countries, including Germany, have committed to spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2024. So far 5 of 28 NATO countries do. Those who currently don’t spend 2% of their GDP on defense are now increasing their defense budgets. That’s a good thing. But no funds will be paid to the US. They are meant to increase NATO’s overall defense capabilities, given the growing Russian threat.”

The core of NATO is an agreement for common defense — not a quid-pro-quo banking transaction. And, for the most part, the mere existence of that agreement has been effective in deterring attacks on member nations. The first time the NATO countries’ mutual defense obligations came into action was after 9/11, in defense of the United States.

According to the Times’ report, however, Trump’s officials took the 2 percent guideline and, starting in 2002, calculated by how much German defense spending fell short of the target each year. Then they added interest.

And while sources didn’t reveal the actual number, the Times estimates that Trump likely presented Merkel with a bill for 300 billion euros. According to their report, Trump had his staff prepare similar calculations for all other NATO members below the 2 percent target.

“The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations,” a German minister told the Times, calling the bill “outrageous.”

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress