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On NATO’s 70th Birthday, Trump Takes Credit for Increased Burden Sharing in Defense Spending

" Trump said of improved burden-sharing among the pact's 29 independent member countries, but stated that "Germany, honestly, is not paying their fair share."

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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, April 2, 2019. VOA

Cindy Saine at the State Department and Valeria Jegisman of VOA’s Russian Service contributed to this report.

U.S. President Donald Trump is warming toward the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), praising the alliance and its leader Tuesday during meetings with its secretary-general.

“Tremendous progress has been made,” Trump said of improved burden-sharing among the pact’s 29 independent member countries, but stated that “Germany, honestly, is not paying their fair share.”

Trump reiterated his concern that while America spends a lot of money to protect Europe, “they’re taking advantage of us on trade.”

Trump, alongside Jens Stoltenberg in front of the Oval Office fireplace, praised him for an excellent job running NATO.

“We get along really well,” Trump said of the former Norwegian prime minister.

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U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a reporter’s question while meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, April 2, 2019. VOA

The president took credit for the turnaround of the alliance he had previously referred to as obsolete.

“As you know when I came it wasn’t so good, and now, they’re catching up” to the goal of members spending two percent of their gross domestic product on defense.

“But I think it should be higher,” added Trump.

Stoltenberg thanked the president for his “strong leadership on burden sharing,” adding, “we have stepped up in our joint fight against terrorism and we are investing more.”

Trump was asked by a reporter about Russia, the Cold War nemesis that led to the alliance’s creation.

“I hope that it’s not going to be a security threat. I think we’ll get along with Russia,” replied Trump, whose 2016 presidential campaign was the target of a two-year investigation by a special counsel for alleged ties to Moscow.

In a subsequent expanded meeting in the Cabinet Room, Stoltenberg, sitting across from Trump, stated that Russia is violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, noting “NATO allies have supported the U.S. position on that strongly.”

Defense spending

Since becoming president in 2017, Trump’s threats to “do his own thing” if NATO states did not meet defense spending targets plunged the organization into crisis.

Only seven of the 29 member states reached the GDP spending commitment in 2018, but that is considered an improvement from previous years.

During Tuesday’s expanded bilateral meeting, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton made note of the increased defense spending by NATO members.

“Now we have the common challenge of making sure it’s spent efficiently,” said Bolton.

70th anniversary

NATO is officially marking its 70th anniversary in Washington this week. But there is a bit less pomp than might have been expected as alliance partners downgraded the celebration to a meeting of foreign ministers to avert the risk of further verbal attacks from the U.S. president.

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, April 2, 2019. VOA

NATO membership “remains an integral part of U.S. security strategy,” a senior State Department official reassured reporters a few hours prior to Trump’s meeting with Stoltenberg.

As foreign ministers of NATO gather in Washington, foreign policy analysts are emphasizing it is one of the most successful military alliances in history and still relevant, pointing to its ability to adapt in dealing with a resurgent Russia, managing the crisis on the south of NATO’s flank, and new threats such as cybersecurity.

“NATO is adapting and allies are spending more on defense. And I think this administration is understanding more and more how critical NATO is to some of the challenges that it faces, including China,” Mark Simakovsky of the Atlantic Council tells VOA. “So, in many ways, NATO is far from obsolete.”

Value of alliance

Trump’s comments, political upheaval in Europe — including the impending British exit from the European Union — and calls by some to kick Turkey out of NATO, can leave the impression, however, that the defense alliance is fracturing.

“I don’t think that’s the case. The alliance is strong,” Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik tells VOA, pointing to increased political dialogues and military exercises among NATO’s members, as well as more U.S. military equipment and troops being brought to Europe.

“You’re not giving the money to somebody else. You’re not putting it into a NATO budget somewhere, you’re spending it on yourselves,” said McCain Institute Director Kurt Volker, who formerly served as U.S. ambassador to NATO. “But it is a demonstration of your commitment to your own security, which then gives NATO the confidence that this is a country that we can help defend as well, because they are committed to defense of their own territory.”

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FILE – Kurt Volker, then-United States Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 28, 2017. VOA

Others agree that defense spending is important, but they say the alliance is fundamentally about the members’ ability to trust each other, and Trump has damaged that trust.

“When an American president questions the value of the alliance, our enemies in Moscow and Beijing are now questioning whether or not NATO would come to the defense of some smaller NATO nations that the president has criticized as maybe not worthy of NATO’s defense,” said Simakovsky, a former Europe/NATO chief of staff in the policy office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense. “But I don’t think at this summit the administration is going to be announcing any departure of the United States.”

Brooking Institution’s Robert Kagan is expressing concern that Trump’s attitude toward the European Union and expressed hostility toward the defense alliance could bring more chaos to the continent.

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“Think of Europe today as an unexploded bomb, its detonator intact and functional, its explosives still live. If this is an apt analogy, then Trump is a child with a hammer, gleefully and heedlessly pounding away. What could go wrong?” wrote Kagan in an upcoming issue of Foreign Affairs. (VOA)

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We Got Trump Elected, Shouldn’t Stop Him in 2020; Says Facebook Executive

Instead, the Russians worked to exploit existing divisions in the American public for example by hosting Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter protest events in the same city on the same day

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FILE - President Donald Trump departs after speaking with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House July 17, 2019, in Washington. VOA

Facebook Vice President Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth has claimed that it was the social networking giant that got Donald Trump elected as the US President in 2016 because “he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser”.

In a memo obtained by The New York Times, the key Facebook executive in the same vein suggested that the platform with over 2.45 billion monthly active users should not use its enormous reach to block Trump’s reelection in 2020.

Was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected?

“I think the answer is yes, but not for the reasons anyone thinks. He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period”, said Bosworth who runs Facebook’s hardware group.

“Trump just did unbelievable work,” Bosworth wrote.

“They weren’t running misinformation or hoaxes. They weren’t micro-targeting or saying different things to different people. They just used the tools we had to show the right creative to each persona.

He continued: “I find myself desperately wanting to pull any lever at my disposal to avoid the same result. So what stays my hand? I find myself thinking of the Lord of the Rings at this moment”.

Donald Trump
Official portrait of President Donald J. Trump. Wikimedia Commons

“Specifically when Frodo offers the ring to Galadrial (Galadriel) and she imagines using the power righteously, at first, but knows it will eventually corrupt her,” he wrote.

“As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear.”

“To be clear, I’m no fan of Trump. I donated the max to Hillary,” he tried to clarify his stand.

Bosworth said that it is worth reminding everyone that Russian interference was real but it was mostly not done through advertising.

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“$100,000 in ads on Facebook can be a powerful tool but it can’t buy you an American election, especially when the candidates themselves are putting up several orders of magnitude more money on the same platform (not to mention other platforms),” he wrote.

Instead, the Russians worked to exploit existing divisions in the American public for example by hosting Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter protest events in the same city on the same day.

“Misinformation was also real and related but not the same as Russian interference,” Bosworth mentioned, admitting that Cambridge Analytica was one of the more acute cases where the details were almost all wrong. (IANS)