European leaders were on edge ahead of this week’s potentially confrontational NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, amid fears that President Donald Trump will follow through on his threat to pull US military protection for allies despite reassurances from officials like Defense Secretary James Mattis.
One senior European official told CNN that NATO members are preparing for a worst-case scenario at the summit, which begins Wednesday, should Trump repeat his threat to end or curtail defense cooperation with NATO allies that are not on a path to hit their defense funding target of 2% of gross domestic product by 2024.
That step would fracture the notion of collective defense that is central to NATO’s identity and, Europeans worry, delight Moscow ahead of Trump’s meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.
Despite a solid slate of agreements that would, in other times, point to a healthy and thriving alliance, Trump has so undermined confidence that officials on both sides of the Atlantic are bracing for the worst and, at best, hoping for no news at all.
Anger about spending
US and allied officials have already reached agreements that will be formally announced at the summit, including:
* Steps to improve NATO readiness and capabilities to get troops more quickly to any fight.
* An increased NATO role in the training and assist mission in Iraq.
* Enhanced capabilities in cybersecurity.
* The announcement of two new NATO commands, one in the US and one in Germany.
* A continued commitment to increase spending.
But Trump’s anger about spending – which officials say he fails to represent accurately – is overshadowing those accomplishments. While some diplomats say they are concerned Trump could condition US help on the 2% spending threshold, others worry the President could scale back a planned funding increase for a European deterrence program.
Other European concerns include the possibility that Trump will say something related to NATO military exercises, US troops in Europe or future NATO expansion that could undermine the alliance, according to several officials.