Trump scolds NATO allies over defense spending

Updated 2:21 PM EDT, Thu May 25, 2017
Trump NATO
Trump NATO
PHOTO: Host TV
Now playing
02:04
Trump calls out NATO allies to pay up
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 17:  U.S. President Donald Trump talks about his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a meeting with House Republicans in the Cabinet Room of the White House on July 17, 2018 in Washington, DC. Following a diplomatic summit in Helsinki, Trump faced harsh criticism after a press conference with Putin where he would not say whether he believed Russia meddled with the 2016 presidential election. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 17: U.S. President Donald Trump talks about his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during a meeting with House Republicans in the Cabinet Room of the White House on July 17, 2018 in Washington, DC. Following a diplomatic summit in Helsinki, Trump faced harsh criticism after a press conference with Putin where he would not say whether he believed Russia meddled with the 2016 presidential election. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Now playing
02:18
Trump questions commitment to defend NATO allies
PHOTO: Shutterstock
Now playing
02:37
Montenegro residents laugh off Trump's remarks
National Security Advisor John Bolton listens as US President Donald Trump addresses the nation on the situation in Syria April 13, 2018 at the White House in Washington, DC. Trump said strikes on Syria are under way.  / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
National Security Advisor John Bolton listens as US President Donald Trump addresses the nation on the situation in Syria April 13, 2018 at the White House in Washington, DC. Trump said strikes on Syria are under way. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
00:50
Bolton criticized Trump's NATO stance in 2016
Trump NATO
Trump NATO
PHOTO: POOL
Now playing
01:09
Trump: Alliance to NATO remains 'very strong'
US President Donald Trump gestures as he addresses a press conference on the second day of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels on July 12, 2018. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump gestures as he addresses a press conference on the second day of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels on July 12, 2018. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
00:52
Trump explains what he thinks of Putin
Trump NATO 2
Trump NATO 2
PHOTO: POOL
Now playing
00:25
Trump to reporter: I'm a very stable genius
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference after a summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Thursday, July 12, 2018. NATO leaders gather in Brussels for a two-day summit. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference after a summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Thursday, July 12, 2018. NATO leaders gather in Brussels for a two-day summit. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
PHOTO: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP
Now playing
03:41
Fact-checking Trump's NATO claims
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L), US President Donald Trump (R), NATO Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Alejandro Alvargonzalez (2L), NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu (3L) and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (3R) and US Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison (2R) speak at a breakfast meeting at the US chief of mission
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L), US President Donald Trump (R), NATO Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Alejandro Alvargonzalez (2L), NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu (3L) and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly (3R) and US Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison (2R) speak at a breakfast meeting at the US chief of mission's residence in Brussels on July 11, 2018, ahead of a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
PHOTO: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
01:49
Trump's NATO comment made his own staff squirm
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:00
NATO secretary general: We have to invest more
PHOTO: POOL
Now playing
01:30
Trump: Germany held captive by Russia
ZAGAN, POLAND - JUNE 18:  A soldier of the Polish Army mans a tank as a NATO flag flies behind during the NATO Noble Jump military exercises of the VJTF forces on June 18, 2015 in Zagan, Poland. The VJTF, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, is NATO
ZAGAN, POLAND - JUNE 18: A soldier of the Polish Army mans a tank as a NATO flag flies behind during the NATO Noble Jump military exercises of the VJTF forces on June 18, 2015 in Zagan, Poland. The VJTF, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, is NATO's response to Russia's annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Troops from Germany, Norway, Belgium, Poland, Czech Republic, Lithuania and Holland were among those taking part today. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Sean Gallup/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
Now playing
01:23
What's the point of NATO?
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:20
NATO ambassador: Discord music to Putin's ears
US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, May 17, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, May 17, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
02:41
Trump blasts NATO allies ahead of summit
NATO flag flying at NATO Headquarters Brussels.
NATO flag flying at NATO Headquarters Brussels.
PHOTO: From NATO/From NATO/From NATO
Now playing
02:23
What Trump says about NATO and what it actually does

Story highlights

Trump attended NATO meetings Thursday

He delivered the remarks in front NATO members

(CNN) —  

President Donald Trump on Thursday chided NATO member countries directly for not meeting their financial commitments to the alliance and declined to reiterate US commitment to the alliance’s mutual defense pledge.

“Members of the alliance must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations,” Trump told the heads of state, who stood silently – some shifting uncomfortably – behind him.

“Twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defense. This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States,” he said.

The call appeared to reveal Trump’s continued misunderstanding of NATO members’ defense commitments. While Trump argued that many of the allies “owe massive amounts of money from past years,” the 2% defense spending benchmark that allies must meet is designed to boost their military, not to funnel money to NATO or other allies.

Trump’s remarks – paired with his conspicuous decision not to reiterate US commitment to NATO’s mutual defense provision, Article 5 – are likely to unsettle allies who had hoped to hear Trump assuage their concerns about his commitment to the historic alliance.

Moreover, the President’s scolding was cast against a striking backdrop: the freshly unveiled 9/11 memorial, which marks the only time the NATO alliance has invoked Article 5. That decision triggered NATO’s participation in the war in Afghanistan.

Remarking on the official opening of NATO’s $1 billion new headquarters, Trump offered a tongue-in-cheek comment that he “never asked once what the new NATO headquarters cost.”

Trump first cast doubt on the provision during his presidential campaign, shocking members of the alliance when he suggested the US might only defend members of the alliance who “fulfill their obligations to us.”

Trump only addressed the Article 5 commitment in passing at the top of his remarks, noting that “our NATO allies responded swiftly and decisively, invoking for the first time in its history the Article 5 collective defense commitments.”

He did not promise the US would do the same should a NATO ally come under attack.

Instead, Trump badgered heads of state of the alliance that an increased financial commitment was needed.

Under the NATO treaty, members of the alliance must commit 2% of their GDP to defense spending, a benchmark that only five of the alliance’s 28 members currently meet.

“Two percent is the bare minimum for confronting today’s very real and very vicious threats,” Trump said. “If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today, especially from the threat of terrorism.”

Briefing reporters Wednesday on Air Force One, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “of course we support Article 5,” but declined to say whether Trump would reiterate the US’ adherence to the mutual defense pledge in his NATO remarks.

In recent months, Trump has sought to assuage some NATO ally concerns, declaring last month in a joint news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg the alliance is “no longer obsolete” as he had claimed on the campaign trail.

The President also reiterated his call for stricter controls on immigration and the flow of refugees, saying “the NATO of the future must include a great focus on terrorism and immigration.”

“You have thousands and thousands of people pouring into our various countries and spreading throughout. And in many cases, we have no idea who they are,” Trump said. “We must be tough. We must be strong. And we must be vigilant.”

While Trump signed an executive order to halt the flow of refugees into the US and ban citizens of several Muslim-majority countries, other NATO leaders have opened their countries to refugees and beat back criticism that those policies could increase the terror threat.

Speaking ahead of Trump at the unveiling of a memorial to the fall of the Berlin Wall was German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

NATO allies should remain “united in the trust that it is not isolation and the building of walls that make us successful, but an open society,” she said.