US President Donald Trump, who has made a reputation for abandoning a great number of important international pacts, discussed leaving the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with his aides last year, according to a new report.
The president floated the idea several times throughout last year out of frustration over NATO allies’ refusal to increase military funding and compensate Washington for burdening most of the alliance’s funding since its establishment in 1949, The New York Times reported Monday, citing current and former administration officials.
The Times reported that pro-NATO officials within the administration were concerned that Trump might actually act on his threats and abandon the organization as members lagged behind his funding goals.
A US exit, the report suggested, would be “tantamount to destroying NATO.”
In July 2018, when all NATO leaders gathered in Brussels for what turned to be a tumultuous summit, Trump told his aides that the alliance was a drain on US economy and he could no longer see what point it served.
Michèle A. Flournoy, an undersecretary of defense who worked for former President Barack Obama, said leaving NATO would be “one of the most damaging things that any president could do to U.S. interests.”
She said the move particularly play well into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has time and again warned the alliance against amassing weapons and equipment on Russia’s western borders.
Since 2014, when NATO severed ties with Moscow over the reintegration of the Crimean Peninsula to Russia, the US-led alliance has been deploying troops and advanced weaponry to the Baltic region to ward off what it calls possible “Russian aggression.”
Retired Adm. James G. Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander of NATO, said an American withdrawal from the alliance would be “the gift of the century” for Putin.
Trump sent letters to leaders of NATO allies, ratcheting up tensions ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels next week.
To shield last year’s NATO summit from Trump, some US national security officials had secretly pushed the alliance’s ambassadors “to complete a formal agreement on several NATO goals — including shared defenses against Russia,” the report further claimed.
But that was not enough to stop Trump, who broke the alliance’s protocols on discussing internal matters in public and blasted members for not meeting his demands.
NATO members are required to spend at least 2 percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on military affairs. This is while the US currently spends around 4 percent.
According to the report, Trump was specifically mad at German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the summit, whose country spent only around 1 percent of its GDP on military.
Trump’s was so mad at Merkel that he decided to get up and leave during her speech, European and American officials present at the meeting confirmed to the Times.
Trump further surprised NATO leaders by urging them to aim for 4 percent, a demand that is essentially impossible for some members to fulfill.
He also threatened that Washington would “go its own way” in 2019 if other NATO countries did not increase their military spending levels.
Concerns for a Trump withdrawal from NATO have prompted some officials to prepare legislation that block such decisions.
Under Article 13 of the Washington Treaty, NATO members are allowed to withdraw only after invoking a one-year notification period. This allows Congress to try and stop Trump in his tracks.
Kay Bailey Hutchison, the US ambassador to NATO, who is also a former Republican senator, has already launched a bid to build support for the alliance in Congress, the report said.
Former US Defense Secretary James Mattis was a strong supporter of the alliance, a point he made clear in his resignation letter last month.
His replacement, Patrick Shanahan, backs NATO but has also said that the Pentagon should not be “the Department of No” to Trump’s orders.