The Slatest

Trump Tweets Suggest President (Still) Doesn’t Understand How NATO Works

President Donald Trump holds a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the East Room of the White House on Friday.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Less than 24 hours after a very awkward and frosty meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to blast Germany for failing to pay enough to NATO and the United States for security. First though, the president began with a conciliatory message, writing that the meeting with Merkel went great. “Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel,” he wrote Saturday morning. But then the president added: “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!”

That statement echoed what Trump said during his joint news conference with Merkel on Friday, when he called on NATO members to contribute their “fair share,” saying that “many nations owe vast sums of money from past years and it is very unfair to the United States.” Although that could be open to interpretation, the commander in chief’s tweets on Saturday, though, seem to suggest Trump doesn’t really understand how NATO is funded. The New York Times explains:

The message was misleading because no nation actually “owes” money to NATO; its direct funding is calculated through a formula and paid by each of the 28 nations that are members.

Mr. Trump may have been referring to the fact that Germany, like most NATO countries, falls short of the alliance’s guideline that each member should allocate 2 percent of its gross domestic product to military spending, but that money is not intended to be paid to NATO or to the United States.

Ivo Daalder, the former U.S. permanent representative on NATO, called out Trump’s seeming mistake in a series of tweets that begin, “Sorry Mr President, that’s not how NATO works.”

“The US decides for itself how much it contributes to defending Nato. This is not a financial transaction, where Nato countries pay the US to defend them,” Daalder wrote. Although it’s true that only five of 28 NATO countries spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, many are now increasing their defense budgets. “That’s a good thing,” he added. But even when they do increase their defense budgets, “no funds will be paid to the US … Europe must spend more on defense, but not as favor (or payment) to the US. But because their security requires it.”

These mistakes on Trump’s end are hardly new. During the presidential campaign, Trump frequently talked about NATO in a confusing way that left his statements open to interpretation.