By Hans Izaak Kriek*
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will meet Trump on April 2 for a private conversation, followed by an expanded meeting, the White House said recently. The two men will discuss burden sharing and challenges facing the organisation.
In honour of the 70th anniversary of NATO, the President and the Secretary General are expected to underscore the importance of the Alliance as a bulwark of international peace and security.
In the past the president has been openly critical of NATO, arguing that the U.S. contributes a disproportionate amount to help the alliance, compared to other member nations. Members do not pay into NATO but contribute toward defense spending in their respective budgets.
Stoltenberg said in January that Trump’s criticism of other NATO members was ‘having an impact’. "NATO allies have heard the president loud and clear, and now NATO allies are stepping up," he said. At the moment, only five out of 29 NATO members, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, United Kingdom and the United States, currently meet their commitment to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, according NATO.
Early March, Bloomberg reported that the Trump administration was considering asking Germany, Japan and, in future, all other countries hosting U.S. troops to pay more money. Under Trump’s proposal, countries would pay the full cost of stationing American troops on their territory, plus 50 percent, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the idea, which could have allies contributing five times what they now provide. However, Stoltenberg has said that alleged Washington’s idea to charge NATO allies for hosting U.S. troops has not been discussed at the alliance.
As Europe worries about Trump, congressional leaders invited NATO Chief Stoltenberg to address a joint session of Congress on April 3. McConnell and Pelosi held quiet talks about the idea as they eye ways to honor NATO as it celebrates its 70th anniversary in April and to underscore the U.S. commitment to the group’s values and importance in securing global order.
A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Stoltenberg addressing a joint session of Congress. NATO declined to say whether Stoltenberg would accept the invitation, saying that his schedule during his Washington trip in April “will be announced in due course.”
The invitation could put the NATO leader in a slightly awkward position. Stoltenberg has gone to great lengths to foster a positive relationship with Trump. If the congressional invitation were seen too direct a rebuke to the White House, it could suck him into a domestic U.S. political battle he has been eager to avoid.
Trump is personally friendly with Stoltenberg and has praised him, making frequent comments about the former Norwegian prime minister’s efforts to increase members’ financial contributions to NATO in exchange for U.S. military operations. And even as many European leaders cringe at Trump, Stoltenberg has strained to give Trump credit for shaking up negotiations over NATO finances and the U.S. military’s support.
“After years of cutting defense budgets, they have started to add billions to their defense budgets,” Stoltenberg said last July at a meeting with Trump. “Why was that last year?” Trump asked. “Because of your leadership, because of your carried message,” Stoltenberg told Trump. Trump then joked that reporters “won’t write that, but that’s okay.’
We’ll see what’s will happen during the visit of NATO’s chief Stoltenberg. Vice President Pence visited last month Poland and spoke remarkable words: “The United States of America stands with Poland in the most successful mutual-defense alliance in the history of the world, an alliance that each of you serves to uphold and defend, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation,” Pence said.
“Under President Trump, the United States will always put the security and prosperity of America first. As the president has made clear, and as all of you prove every single day, ‘America First’ does not mean America alone.”
*International political commentator for European Business Review and editor-in-chief of Kriek Media.