Trump gave Merkel $370 billion ‘invoice’ for NATO debt

German chancellor reportedly unfazed by written demand for money president thinks Berlin owes organization, plus interest

President Donald Trump greets German Chancellor Angela Merkel outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 17, 2017. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
President Donald Trump greets German Chancellor Angela Merkel outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 17, 2017. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Washington on March 17, US President Donald Trump reportedly handed her a bill for money he thinks Germany owes NATO.

Trump had the invoice, reportedly for £300 billion ($374 billion, or NIS 1.36 trillion), drawn up by aides for a shortfall in Germany’s NATO contributions going back to 2002, with interest added. He reportedly handed it to Merkel during a private meeting between the two.

Germany, along with all NATO countries, agreed in 2014 to spend two percent of its GPD on defense. However, of the 28 countries that make up the organization only a few, including the US and UK, spend that amount. Germany currently spends 1.23% of its GDP on defense, although that percentage is increasing.

Trump asked his aides to calculate Germany’s shortfall below 2%, going back to 2002 when then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder pledged to increase his country’s defense spending, The Sunday Times reported.

After meeting Merkel the president reaffirmed the United States’ “strong support” for NATO, but reiterated his stance that NATO allies need to “pay their fair share” for the cost of defense. Trump said many countries owe “vast sums of money,” though he didn’t identify Germany specifically as one of those nations.

A German government minister responded to the invoice, saying that Merkel was not intimidated by it.

“The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side,” the unnamed minister said, “but the Chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations.”

Another source close to Merkel implied that Trump was confused about the workings of NATO.

“The president has a very unorthodox view on NATO defense spending,” the source told the Times. “The alliance is not a club with a membership fee. The commitments relate to countries’ investment in their defense budgets.”

Even before winning the Republican nomination, Trump questioned whether European countries were paying their share for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, threatening to withhold US support.

In his first interview after winning the nomination, in July 2016, Trump doubled down on his warning that the US might not meet its mutual defense obligations in NATO under his presidency — if he deemed that a member state was not pulling its weight financially.

After his meeting with Merkel, Trump tweeted that Germany owed vast sums of money to the US for defense.

“Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel,” he tweeted. “Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”

However, Ivo Daalder, a former US ambassador to NATO, tweeted that the president didn’t understand “how NATO works.” He said that no country owes the US any money for NATO. Instead, the commitment was for each country to spend 2% on its own defense budget, to be spent on its own military.

“Sorry, Mr. President, that’s not how NATO works. The US decides for itself how much it contributes to defending NATO,” he tweeted. “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.”

Prior to his inauguration, Trump declared NATO “obsolete” but has since modified his stance, telling European leaders the alliance remains of strategic importance.

News agencies contributed to this report.

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