Trump's claim that NATO will boost defense spending disputed

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President Donald Trump has spoken out about how he thinks the NATO meetings went. (WLS)

In a chaotic 28 hours at NATO, President Donald Trump disparaged longtime allies, cast doubt on his commitment to the mutual-defense organization and sent the 29-member pact into frenzied emergency session. Then, in a head-snapping pivot at the end, on Thursday he declared the alliance a "fine-tuned machine" that had caved to his demands to speed up increases in military spending.

Trump claimed member nations had agreed to significantly boost their defense budgets and reaffirmed - after days of griping that the U.S. was being taken advantage of by its allies - that the U.S. remains faithful to the accord. "The United States' commitment to NATO remains very strong," Trump told reporters at a surprise news conference following an emergency session of NATO members held to address his threats.

There were no immediate specifics on what Trump said he had achieved, and French President Emmanuel Macron quickly disputed Trump's claim that NATO allies had agreed to boost defense spending beyond their existing goal of 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024.

"There is a communique that was published yesterday. It's very detailed," Macron said. "It confirms the goal of 2 percent by 2024. That's all."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the leaders had agreed "that we need to deliver on our commitments. There's new sense of urgency, and all allies agreed to redouble their efforts."

"This is about making sure that we deliver on our commitments and that we continue to add more billions to our defense budgets," he said.

And German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed Germany was already working to increase its spending before Trump's push.

"I made clear that we know that we have to do more and that we have been doing so for quite a while," she said. "That turning point has long been initiated."

Trump had spent his time in Brussels berating members of the military alliance for failing to spend enough of their money on defense, accusing Europe of freeloading off the U.S. and raising doubts about whether he would come to members' defense if they were attacked.

Trump said he made his anger clear to allies on Wednesday.

"Yesterday I let them know that I was extremely unhappy with what was happening," Trump said, adding that, in response, European countries agreed to boost their spending.

"They have substantially upped their commitment and now we're very happy and have a very, very powerful, very, very strong NATO," he said.

Painting a rosy portrait before he left Brussels, Trump added: "I can you tell you that NATO now is a really a fine-tuned machine. People are paying money that they never paid before. They're happy to do it. And the United States is being treated much more fairly.

With that, Trump moved on to the United Kingdom, where significant protests against him were expected. Although Trump administration officials point to the longstanding alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom, Trump's itinerary in England will largely keep him out of central London, the center of the protests.

Instead, a series of events - a black-tie dinner with business leaders, a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May and an audience with Queen Elizabeth II - will happen outside the bustling city, where Mayor Sadiq Khan has been in a verbal battle with Trump.

Trump brushed off the protests, saying, "I think they like me a lot in the U.K. I think they agree with me on immigration. I'm very strong on immigration."

At NATO, Trump did not specify which countries had committed to what, and it remained unclear whether any had changed their plans. He suggested an accelerated timeline, saying nations would be "spending at a much faster clip." That would mark a significant milestone for the alliance.

"Some are at 2 percent, others have agreed definitely to go to 2 percent, and some are going back to get the approval, and which they will get to go to 2 percent," he said.

U.S. leaders for decades have pushed NATO allies to spend more on defense in an effort to more equitably share the collective defense burden.

NATO countries in 2014 set a goal of moving toward spending 2 percent of their gross domestic products on defense within 10 years. NATO has estimated that only 15 members, or just over half, will meet the benchmark by 2024 based on current trends.

Macron, in his own news conference, seemed to reject Trump's claim that NATO powers had agreed to increases beyond previous targets. He said the allies had confirmed their intention to meet the goal of 2 percent by 2024 and no more.

The emergency session came amid reports that Trump had threatened to leave the pact if allies didn't immediately up their spending. Officials said no explicit threat was made.

"President Trump never at any moment, either in public or in private, threatened to withdraw from NATO," Macron said.

Still, Trump confirmed the fears of NATO officials and allies as he sent the carefully orchestrated summit into chaos. On Thursday, Trump arrived late to the official meetings, missed scheduled sit-downs with two allies on the margins of the summit, and skipped part of a session on the NATO mission in Afghanistan to hold the impromptu news conference.

Trump had taken an aggressive tone during the summit, questioning the value of an alliance that has defined decades of American foreign policy, torching an ally and proposing a massive increase in European defense spending.

Earlier Thursday, Trump called out U.S. allies on Twitter, saying, "Presidents have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Germany and other rich NATO Nations to pay more toward their protection from Russia."

He complained the United States "pays tens of Billions of Dollars too much to subsidize Europe" and demanded that member nations reach their goal to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense, which "must ultimately go to 4%!"

Under fire for his warm embrace of Russia's Vladimir Putin, Trump on Wednesday also turned a harsh spotlight on Germany's own ties to Russia, alleging that a natural gas pipeline venture with Moscow has left Merkel's government "totally controlled" and "captive" to Russia.

He continued the attack Thursday, complaining that "Germany just started paying Russia, the country they want protection from, Billions of Dollars for their Energy needs coming out of a new pipeline from Russia."

"Not acceptable!" he railed before arriving late at NATO headquarters.

Fact-checking Trump's NATO news conference

President Donald Trump addressed the US and foreign media Thursday following a contentious two days at the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium.

Trump answered questions on the United States' commitments to the transatlantic alliance, his upcoming visit to the United Kingdom, and his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.

Trump seemed to change his tune about NATO over the past two days, saying that it is now a "fine-tuned machine," claiming that he got members to agree to increase their defense spending.

However, the NATO communique reaffirms its 2014 commitment to a defense spending increase to 2 percent of their gross domestic product in 2024.

Trump's biggest qualm with NATO has been that the United States is spending more on defense than other members, some of which aren't yet meeting that commitment.

Trump claimed Thursday that the United States was spending 4.2 percent of its GDP on NATO.

"The United States, depending on the way you calculate it, was at 4.2 percent. We have the largest GDP by far especially since we increased it so much," Trump said Thursday.

Trump is right in noting that the United States has the largest GDP of NATO members (and the world) -- $19.39 trillion in 2017, according to the World Bank.

However, the United States is expected to spend an estimated 3.5 percent of the GDP on defense in 2018, according to numbers released by NATO on Tuesday. That is lower than last year's estimate, which was at 3.57 percent. The last time the US spent as much as Trump cited was in 2012, when defense spending was a little more than 4.4 percent of the US GDP. The following year, the US spent about 4.08 percent on defense.

NATO sets an official target on how much members should spend -- 2 percent of a country's GDP -- but there is no penalty for not meeting the 2 percent target, which they call a "guideline."

Trump also said twice during his news conference that the United States is paying for "90 percent of the cost of NATO."

All NATO members directly contribute to the organization's budget in accordance with an agreed cost-sharing formula based on gross national income, and the US contributes about 22 percent to that.

For 2018, NATO has a civilian budget of about $286 million, a military budget of $1.54 billion, and a joint budget for the NATO Security Investment Program, which covers major construction and command and control system investments, which is capped at $817 million.

In addition, NATO estimated its 29 members collectively spent $917 billion on defense expenditures in 2017, with the United States representing about 67 percent of that total amount.

The President was asked about his visit to the United Kingdom, the next leg of his foreign trip, where mass protests have been organized in the cities.

Trump said he thinks the people of the UK "like me a lot" and he later made the comparison to protests on the night of the 2016 presidential election.

"But I think there were protests the night of the election both ways, but in the end, we had 306 electoral votes," Trump said. He added, "That was the one state that Ronald Reagan didn't win when he ran the board his second time -- he didn't win Wisconsin and we won Wisconsin."

During the 1984 presidential election, President Ronald Reagan won Wisconsin against Democratic candidate Walter Mondale. That election, Reagan only lost in Minnesota and the District of Columbia.

In addition, the Electoral College results in 2016 were officially certified that December as 304 electoral votes for Trump to Hillary Clinton's 227 because of "faithless" electors who cast their votes for other candidates. Earlier, when the votes were initially counted in November, Trump won 306 electoral votes compared to Clinton's 232.

CNN contributed to this report.
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