When President Donald Trump went to Brussels on Tuesday he hinted that the United States no longer saw much use for NATO. But he emerged all smiles Thursday as he hailed the alliance and complimented allies he had bashed only a day earlier. It was a remarkable and welcome U-turn.
Mr. Trump also signed the equally welcome and remarkable communique issued by NATO on the need for Russia to change its behavior.
As usual, Mr. Trump sought to claim credit for the progress he said NATO is making, and some of his statements were off base. But there is evidence that the president’s prodding helped, though there are other factors as well.
NATO increased its defense spending beginning two years ago, before Mr. Trump’s presidency, and the United States certainly does not bear 70 to 90 percent of the costs of NATO. The broadest measure, the U.S. share of the total defense spending by NATO nations, is roughly two-thirds, but a lot of U.S. defense spending has nothing to do directly with European defense. Also, the communique had been under preparation for months before the summit.
But these are quibbles. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said publicly, the energy Mr. Trump has put into chiding our allies for neglecting the common defense has made a difference. As of this week, 24 of 29 NATO nations have formally pledged to meet the alliance’s defense spending goal of 2 percent of Gross Domestic Product by 2024. This includes Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently refused to make that pledge.
And Mr. Trump hinted that even Germany has agreed to speed up its defense spending plans.
Another alarm rightfully raised by Mr. Trump during the summit was Germany’s plans to increase natural gas imports from Russia, a subject of particular interest as the president prepares for his summit Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It turns out that even Germany recognizes the risks. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also signed the 29-nation communique, which says energy supplies “can have significant political and security implications for Allies,” and urges NATO members to take steps to protect themselves and their allies against “political or coercive manipulation” of energy supplies. At his news conference Thursday, Mr. Trump suggested he is satisfied that NATO will take steps to mitigate the risks to Europe of reliance on Russian natural gas.
The communique accused Russia of trying to subvert NATO members using “hybrid” methods similar to those it used in annexing Crimea from Ukraine. It also called on Russia to admit its responsibility for shooting down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 aboard, and accused Russia of violating the Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty by deploying a forbidden nuclear-tipped land cruise missile and treaty-limited conventional forces in Europe.
In another hopeful sign of improved cooperation, the communique affirmed plans to strengthen NATO’s eastern defense posture in response to the Russian threat and pledged to continue building a NATO ballistic missile defense system.
It also hailed progress toward the future expansion of NATO in the former Yugoslavia and Georgia and NATO cooperation with Ukraine, all measures strongly opposed by Russia. We hope Mr. Trump will remain firm on these issues during his highly anticipated summit with Mr. Putin in Helsinki.
The communique also strongly criticized Iran for its missile tests violating a United Nations ban and for its destabilizing military actions in the Middle East.
These are fine words. Unfortunately, they do not substitute for a robust defense posture. Because of earlier neglect, NATO’s armed forces, particularly Germany’s, are in a low state of readiness that will take years to repair. Mr. Trump has wisely chosen to salute the progress that has been made, but he should continue to press for better results.