Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Texas, speaks after a meeting of Republican senators at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Jay Mallin/Bloomberg)

Trump NATO Pressure Paying Dividends in Europe, U.S. Envoy Says

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign on North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies to boost spending for their own defense is paying off, U.S. NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison said.

Separately, the U.S. envoy said she’s concerned that Russia is trying to “flip” Turkey and other American allies to its column.

“NATO really is making progress, and they are doing it really at President Trump’s insistence,” Hutchinson said on “Fox News Sunday.” “It’s very clear, and he’s been very direct about the Europeans needing to do more for their own security.”

Hutchison, a former Republican senator from Texas, took up her NATO role in August. She spoke ahead of a potentially testy summit of North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations to be held in Brussels July 11-12.

The U.S. has been seeking an increased commitment by alliance members to increase defense spending. In the past few weeks, Trump has sent sharply worded letters to the leaders of several European countries, including Germany, Italy and Norway, as well as to Canada, warning that the U.S. was losing patience.

“It will become increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries continue to fail to meet our shared collective security commitments,” Trump said in a letter addressed to Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg seen by Bloomberg News.

In 2014, NATO members pledged to spend at least two percent of economic output on defense by 2024. Estimated 2017 defense spending as a percentage of GDP was 1.2 percent in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy. Only five NATO members -- the U.K., Estonia, Poland and Greece, as well as the U.S. -- were forecast to have met the two percent target in 2017.

Some diplomats fear the president will threaten to pull troops out of Europe without more spending on defense, despite U.S. denials. Separately, doubts about Trump’s commitment to European security has pushed EU leaders to boost defense cooperation.

Although Hutchison said threats by Trump to impose tariffs on European cars haven’t come up in the context of NATO, the president has accused European members of the military alliance of denying U.S. companies fair trade access.

‘Change is Coming!’

“We protect Europe (which is good) at great financial loss, and then get unfairly clobbered on Trade. Change is Coming!” Trump said on Twitter in June in posts that specifically called out Germany. “The U.S. pays close to the entire cost of NATO-protecting many of these same countries that rip us off on Trade (they pay only a fraction of the cost -- and laugh!)”

Germany’s defense minister last week rebuffed Trump’s twinning of trade and European defense spending ahead of the NATO summit. It was “immature” to link the two topics, Ursula von der Leyen said.

A country’s defense contribution shouldn’t be measured only as a percentage of GDP, but also in terms of troops and hardware, she said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Berlin. Still, Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a weekly podcast on Saturday, said Germany would increase defense spending in its 2019 budget, suggesting Trump’s jawboning is paying off.

From the two-day NATO meeting in Brussels, Trump heads to the U.K. and then to a one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16.

On Russia, Hutchison said there are signs Moscow is trying to court NATO member Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was re-elected in June and is moving to further consolidate power -- including an ongoing purge of thousands of people from government jobs.

“I do think Russia is trying to flip Turkey; they’re trying to flip many of our allies,” Hutchison said. “They want to destabilize the strongest defense alliance in the history of the world, and that’s NATO.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.