King Philippe of Belgium, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, U.S. President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May (from L to R, front) and other NATO member states leaders watch air show at the handover ceremony of the new NATO headquarters during a one-day NATO Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan)
by Martin Banks
BRUSSELS, May 25 (Xinhua) -- U.S President Donald Trump on Thursday used the occasion of his maiden summit with NATO leaders to, once again, remind his fellow NATO alliance leaders for not being "fair" to U.S. taxpayers.
"23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying," Trump said, adding that they owe "massive amounts".
NATO says a rising number of European members have increased defense spending "significantly" in the last 12 months, although only a handful meet the 2-percent spending target agreed at a previous summit in 2014.
Trump's comments will disappoint alliance leaders who had hoped for a public commitment from the U.S. president to NATO's security guarantees, which he called into question during his presidential campaign last year.
It was also notable that Trump refused to publicly reiterate U.S. commitment to NATO's mutual defense provision, Article 5, which had been invoked just once before: after the terror attack of September 11, 2001.
However, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO leaders had agreed to step up NATO's role in the fight against terrorism and "fairer burden sharing".
The meeting, he said, had adopted an action plan to enhance NATO's contributions and had also decided to expand to support to the U.S.-led "Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS".
Stoltenberg said, "This will send a strong political message of NATO's commitment to the fight against terrorism and improve coordination within the Coalition."
However, he stressed, "It does not mean that NATO will engage in combat operations."
On burden sharing, he said, "In 2015, defense cuts came to a stop. And in 2016, total spending across Europe and Canada increased by billions of dollars. This is not just about cash, but also modern capabilities."
The summit had taken steps "to keep up the momentum" and agreed to develop national plans every year.
"These will set out how NATO Allies intend to meet their pledge. So that we continue to match words with action," said the NATO's chief.
Trump has previously supported Britain's shock Brexit vote, claimed the EU was a doomed would-be super-state and dubbed NATO "obsolete".
Even so, hopes were relatively high that the visit, Trump's first overseas trip as U.S. President, could help heal EU/U.S. relations and ongoing rows about European defense spending.
But the severe ticking off he gave alliance members risks souring relations even more.
In a sign of growing frustration felt by EU leaders, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, speaking after meeting Trump in Brussels, defended European defense spending, insisting: "Europe is taking on greater responsibility on defense."
Greens co-leader, Philippe Lamberts commented, "Trump's demands on the NATO countries for military rearmament is no answer to the threats and instability we face."
"In marked contrast to the U.S. president, Europe must defend the importance of conflict prevention, diplomacy and human rights, instead of spending ever more on upgrading military capacity. We need to find better ways of cooperating to ensure our security," Lamberts said.
Stoltenberg sought to seek a more conciliatory tone, hailing Trump's plan to expand, with 4.8 billion U.S. dollars, the European Reassurance Initiative, a military fund to counter "Russian aggression".
Stoltenberg said the "barbaric" attack in Manchester on Monday underlines the importance of his organization's role in combating terrorism and "the importance of standing together in defense of our open societies".
Reaction to the summit and Trump's visit was swift, with Charles Michel, the Prime Minister of Belgium whose country has hosted NATO for over 50 years, warning, "Security today requires much more than the traditional military tools. Civilian and military operations go hand in hand. So we will need both soft and hard power."
UK Conservative Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Tannock said, "Hopefully both sides took the chance to set aside the rhetoric, sound each other out and lay the foundations of a strong political and security relationship. It is much easier to reach an understanding when you are in the same room, not hailing each other across the Atlantic."
Giovanni Grevi, of the European Policy Centre,a leading think tank, said: "Trump's nationalist political instincts are at odds with what the EU stands for. However, given the breadth and depth of transatlantic ties, both Washington and Brussels have an interest in taking a pragmatic approach to mutual relations."