By Nathan Morley
The atmosphere was tense as leaders of the 29 NATO countries and their foreign and defence ministers gathered for this crunch summit on the future of the alliance.
But, it is President Trump that is clearly dictating the agenda.
Whilst breakfast meetings are normally cordial affairs, just moments after sitting down with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, President Trump launched into a monologue appealing for member nations to pay more.
A leading French newspaper observed: “To the amazement of Mr. Stoltenberg, President Trump managed to focus the media on his indictment of Germany, on what should have been a pleasant photo opportunity around coffee and croissants.”
The issue of NATO funding has been smouldering continuously since its establishment in 1949. Whilst Americans rightly wonder about the value of their costly NATO commitments, it is the financial aspect which irks people most.
Trump says that Germany has persistently shirked her financial responsibilities, whilst at the same time, enjoying the full benefits of membership. Currently, Germany spends 1.2 percent of its gross domestic product on the military.
The German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen reacted calmly to the criticism saying: “We have almost gotten used to it.”
“We are the second largest troop contributor in all NATO missions,” she added.
Eyebrows were raised when President Trump described Germany as being a ‘prisoner’ of Moscow because of its dependency on gas supplies from Russia.
“Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they will be getting from 60 to 70% of their energy from Russia, and a new pipeline, and you tell me if that's appropriate because I think it's not and I think it's a very bad thing for NATO,” he said.
In an effort to calm the United States, Stoltenberg emphasized that the dispute over gas was not an issue for the alliance: “The decision is not with NATO, that's a national decision,” he said.
The United States has been scaling back its role in Europe, however, even now; it retains a vast military presence across the continent, ranging from troops to aircraft stationed in Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Ukraine.
Trump allies say huge amounts of expenditure for military exercises in Europe pour out from Washington, and are spent on drills such as the one in Poland and the Baltic states in June, which involved 18,000 soldiers.