NATO Offers Trump a Budget Bonbon as Summit Nears

FILE -- President Donald Trump and other leaders at the NATO summit meeting in Brussels, July 11, 2018. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)


Steven Erlanger

c.2019 The New York Times Company


BRUSSELS — In another gesture to President Donald Trump, NATO announced Thursday that it had agreed to reduce the United States’ contribution to the alliance’s relatively small central budget, a moved aimed at ensuring a calm leaders’ meeting next week in London.

The military alliance’s own budget, which covers its headquarters and staff and some small joint military operations, is about $2.5 billion a year, compared with more than $700 billion for the Pentagon.

At a meeting with President Emmanuel Macron of France in Paris, the alliance’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said that its members had agreed to redistribute some costs.

“The U.S. will pay less, Germany will pay more, so now the U.S. and Germany will pay the same,” he said, with each contributing about 16% of NATO’s central budget. Previously the United States paid about 22%.

The NATO budget is separate from the 2% of gross domestic product that each NATO member has agreed to spend on defense by 2024.

Trump regularly complains about military spending by other NATO members, but other countries in the alliance have increased their military spending since the Russian annexation of Crimea five years ago by about $130 billion, a NATO official said, a figure that Stoltenberg is expected to announce next week.

Even so, only eight of the 29 member countries meet the 2% goal.

NATO leaders are trying to keep Trump from disrupting this meeting, a short one to celebrate the alliance’s 70th anniversary, as he did the last Brussels summit in July 2018. Stoltenberg in particular has tried to keep close ties to the Trump administration, given the importance of the U.S. commitment to NATO.

At a news conference with Stoltenberg after their meeting in Paris, Macron defended his own criticism about NATO. The French leader, in an interview with the magazine The Economist, said that the alliance was approaching “brain death” because of a lack of coordination.

He was particularly irked that Trump had told President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey that he would pull U.S. troops out of Syria without having spoken to other NATO members.

“A wake-up call was necessary,” Macron insisted after much criticism of his language. “I’m glad it was delivered, and I’m glad everyone now thinks we should rather think about our strategic goals.”

Too much emphasis was put on military spending, Macron added, and not enough on strategy. France, a nuclear power, is among the NATO members not meeting the alliance’s target for military spending.