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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
17 Feb 2024
Will Hazell; Joe Barnes; James Rothwell

Nato countries scramble to meet 2 per cent spending target to avoid Donald Trump’s wrath

Nato members are scrambling to honour their defence spending target in time for a crunch July summit taking place just days before Donald Trump’s expected coronation as Republican candidate for president.

Westminster sources told The Telegraph that European members need to arrive at Nato’s 75th Anniversary summit in Washington DC with a commitment to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence.

The summit will take place 9-11 July - the week before the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, where Mr Trump is expected to be selected as the party’s nominee for president.

A senior Whitehall security source said: “If we all rock up in Washington for the Nato summit with half of Europe still not paying 2 per cent of GDP… that would be an own goal.”

Nigel Farage, a confidante of Mr Trump, said he believed he would not try to withdraw the US from Nato if re-elected, but that Britain and other members had to bolster their militaries to ensure “America’s commitment”.

Nigel Farage said he believed Donald Trump would not try to withdraw the US from Nato if re-elected
Nigel Farage said he believed Donald Trump would not try to withdraw the US from Nato if re-elected Credit: Tia Dufour/White House Photo

Last week, Mr Trump set alarms ringing across Europe when he said he would “encourage” Russia to attack Nato members that fail to pay their bills.

He claimed to have had a conversation while president in which the leader of a “big country” had asked him whether the US would come to his aid in the event of a Russian attack even if it was not meeting its Nato financial obligations.

“I said: ‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’... ‘No I would not protect you, in fact I would encourage them to do whatever they want.”

The comments raised concerns that if re-elected in November he might fail to honour Nato’s Article 5 commitment to come to the aid of members under attack, or even attempt to pull the US out of Nato entirely.

The Telegraph can reveal that a concerted effort is underway in London and across other Nato capitals to “Trump-proof” the alliance.

One diplomat said: “There is a lot of talk about Trump contingency planning… on how to make sure a US president is invested in the security of the transatlantic area.”

In the UK, the Whitehall security source said the Nato July summit was seen as a key date because it was taking place “a week before the Republican National Convention” when “big, febrile politics” would be at play.

The source said the UK was pursuing “two lines of activity” in response to the potential return of Mr Trump. The first track involved “diplomacy around everybody in Nato other than the US, to say ‘hey guys, we really need to turn up to Washington with our s—t together’.”

Mr Farage said the UK military has to be strengthened
Mr Farage said the UK military has to be strengthened Credit: Leon Neal/Getty

The aim would be for “everybody” in the alliance to have a commitment to hit 2 per cent by next year, they said. Last week, Nato said that 18 of its 31 members would hit the target this year.

The second track would involve “diplomacy in the US”, stressing that Washington cannot just focus on China to the exclusion of the Euro-Atlantic. “Russia will be a client of China and Russia will therefore continue to be a challenge to the US in the Atlantic,” the source said.

Another senior government source agreed that getting all Nato states to commit to 2 per cent was critical. “Everyone needs to have two in front of their figure,” the source said.

Mr Farage told The Telegraph that Mr Trump’s recent comments were part of an ongoing negotiation with Europe to drive up defence spending. “Read The Art of the Deal,” Mr Farage said. “Ask for the Earth, threaten the person you’re doing a deal with and accept a compromise.”

The former UKIP leader said he did not think Mr Trump would withdraw from Nato. “There is clearly within America now a debate within the Republican movement - and within parts of the Democrat movement - that does have shades of ‘why the hell should we be relied upon the whole time?’

“The question really is, as the 47th president, does Trump want America to lead the Western world? I think in the end he does.”

But Mr Farage said Nato was “unsaleable” to the “Republican voter base if Nato members won’t pay the membership fee”.

While Britain is hitting the 2 per cent target, Mr Farage said the UK military had to be strengthened too. “If ever there was a question under a Trump presidency of America’s commitment, the key would be where do the Brits stand in this? Along the same lines that everybody needs to pay the membership fee, the Brits need to be a serious force and we’re not at the moment.”

Fiona Hill, the British-American former security adviser to Mr Trump, said he saw Nato as a “protection racket” for European security. “He believes Europeans rip off the US, he believes the fact that the EU is a competitor economically and then asks for defence, is at the root of that rip off,” she said.