President-elect Donald Trump, in remarks likely to rattle U.S. allies, described NATO as “obsolete” in an interview published in Monday editions of two European newspapers.
He also hailed Britain’s exit from the E.U. and backed a speedy trade deal with the U.K., but condemned as “catastrophic” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s doors to a flood of refugees.
“I said a long time ago that NATO had problems,” Trump said, in remarks carried by The Times of London and Bild, Germany’s biggest-selling daily. “Number one, it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago,” he said. “Number two, the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay.”
“I took such heat, when I said NATO was obsolete. It’s obsolete because it wasn’t taking care of terror. I took a lot of heat for two days. And then they started saying Trump is right.” He added, though, “NATO is very important to me.”
On the campaign trail, Trump said he would think twice about helping NATO allies if the United States were not “reasonably reimbursed” for the costs of defending them. His comments caused consternation among eastern European NATO countries nervous about Moscow following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.
After Trump’s victory, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance had been a bedrock of transatlantic security for “almost 70 years” and was especially needed at a time of new challenges. “This is no time to question the partnership between Europe and the United States,” Stoltenberg said.
Spending has been a common source of friction within NATO over recent years. The core military contributor to the alliance is the United States, which accounts for about 70 percent of spending.
In 2014, stung into action by Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa, NATO leaders agreed to reverse years of defense cuts and devote the equivalent of two percent of economic output to defense.
“The countries aren’t paying their fair share so we’re supposed to protect countries,” Trump said in Sunday’s interview. “ … There’s five countries that are paying what they’re supposed to. Five. It’s not much.”
NATO—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—was founded in 1949 to offset the Soviet domination of eastern Europe, which ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Moscow’s eastern European allies joined the NATO club after the end of the Cold War, sparking angry accusations in Russia that the West sought to encircle it. NATO says that it is a purely defensive operation. The alliance today has 28 members, and 22 other countries in a so-called Partnership for Peace Program.
Members pledge to defend each other if attacked, although the only time the self-defense clause has been invoked was after the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States.
In other remarks, Trump said Brexit “is going to end up as a great thing” and said he backed a trade deal with post-E.U. Britain, which would be “good for both sides.”
“We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly,” said Trump, confirming he will meet British Prime Minister Theresa May soon after his inauguration on Jan. 20. “Other countries will leave” the European Union in future, Trump prophesied, largely due to the pressure the bloc was put under following a significant uptick in migrants and refugees arriving.
“If they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it… entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit. This was the final straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.
But he also criticized Merkel for letting Germany admit undocumented migrants enter the country, insinuating that this posed a security risk. “I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from,” Trump said, adding he had “great respect” for the chancellor.
Merkel took flak at home after her open-door policy aimed at desperate Syrian refugees brought 890,000 asylum seekers to Europe’s biggest economy in 2015, contributing to the rise of an anti-migrant movement. But in 2016, that figure dropped back sharply, to 280,000 arrivals the government said last Wednesday.