President Trump's sharp "focus" on the need for NATO members to contribute more to the common defense is paying off, according to the alliance's top civilian official.
"We know that we all need to contribute our fair share," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during a joint press conference at the White House.
Stoltenberg reminded Trump and the public that NATO allies have contributed to the defense of the Untied States, emphasizing that about 1,000 members of allied militaries have died fighting in Afghanistan. But he paired that conventional defense of NATO with a clear olive branch to Trump, who rattled international leaders during the 2016 presidential election by threatening to abandon allies who fail to contribute to the common defense.
Such rhetoric has produced a $10 billion increase in defense spending. "We are . . . seeing the effect of your strong focus on the importance of burden-sharing in the alliance," Stoltenberg said. "Fair burden-sharing has been my top priority since taking office. We have now turned a corner. In 2016, for the first time in many years, we saw an increase in defense spending across European allies and Canada."
Trump returned the favor. "I said it was obsolete," he recalled. "It is no longer obsolete." That was a significant shift from his complaints that NATO has an insufficient focus on terrorism, which struck European ears with additional force given his interest in cooperating with Russia to defeat ISIS."
Stoltenberg acknowledged the need to "find ways to live with" Russia, but he added that the NATO increases should counteract "assertive" actions from the former Soviet power. "We are implementing biggest reinforcement of collective defense since the end of the Cold War, providing credible deterrence," he said.
Trump suggested that more remains to be done. "I did ask about all the money that hasn't been paid over the years, will that money be coming back?" the president interjected. "We want to talk about that, too."