U.S. President Donald Trump and French leader Emmanuel Macron clashed over the future of NATO on Tuesday before a summit intended to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Western military alliance.
In sharp exchanges underlining discord in a transatlantic bloc hailed by backers as the most successful military pact in history, Trump demanded that Europe pay more for its collective defense and make concessions to U.S. interests on trade.
Macron, the French president, stood by comments he made last month describing NATO as suffering from a lack of strategic purpose akin to “brain death”, and criticized fellow NATO member Turkey, which he accused of working with Islamic State proxies.
Washington and Paris have long argued over NATO’s purpose – France opposed the 2003 Iraq war – but the new tensions will add to doubts over the alliance’s future that have grown with Trump’s ambivalence over U.S. commitments to defend Europe.
Trump said Macron’s criticism of NATO was “very, very nasty” and questioned whether the U.S. military should defend any countries that were “delinquent” on alliance targets for national military spending.
“It’s not right to be taken advantage of on NATO and also then to be taken advantage of on trade, and that’s what happens. We can’t let that happen,” Trump said of transatlantic disputes on issues ranging from the aerospace sector to a European digital services tax on U.S. technology giants.
All 29 member states have a target of spending 2% of their gross domestic product on defense and Trump has singled out Germany for falling short of that goal.
But Macron stood by his criticism of NATO and said its real problem was a failure to forge a clear purpose since the end of the Cold War.
“If we invest money and put our soldiers’ lives at risk in theaters of operation we must be clear about the fundamentals of NATO,” he said in a tweet at the end of a day overshadowed by tensions between the French and U.S. leaders.
A French presidency official said Trump often makes strident statements ahead of bilateral meetings and cools his rhetoric later. He noted that Macron and Trump “exchanged jokes and were very relaxed” at a joint news conference in London.