Trump inflates US spending on NATO, misidentifies state Reagan lost in ’84 election
President Donald Trump inflated US defense spending figures during an unscheduled news conference to cap the NATO summit — and his misleading statements didn’t stop there.
Trump also incorrectly identified the state President Ronald Reagan lost in the 1984 election and again blamed his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, for Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The President’s claims came as he addressed the US and foreign media Thursday following a contentious two days at the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium.
US defense spending and NATO
Trump seemed to change his tune about NATO over the past two days, saying that it is now a “fine-tuned machine,” claiming that he got members to agree to increase their defense spending.
However, the NATO communique reaffirms its 2014 commitment to a defense spending increase to 2% of their gross domestic product in 2024.
Trump’s biggest qualm with NATO has been that the United States is spending more on defense than other members, some of which aren’t yet meeting that commitment.
Trump claimed Thursday that the United States was spending 4.2% of its GDP on NATO.
“The United States, depending on the way you calculate it, was at 4.2%. We have the largest GDP by far especially since we increased it so much,” Trump said Thursday.
Trump is right in noting that the United States has the largest GDP of NATO members (and the world) — $19.39 trillion in 2017, according to the World Bank.
However, the United States is expected to spend an estimated 3.5% of the GDP on defense in 2018, according to numbers released by NATO on Tuesday. That is lower than last year’s estimate, which was at 3.57%. The last time the US spent as much as Trump cited was in 2012, when defense spending was a little more than 4.4% of the US GDP. The following year, the US spent about 4.08% on defense.
NATO sets an official target on how much members should spend — 2% of a country’s GDP — but there is no penalty for not meeting the 2% target, which they call a “guideline.”
Trump also said twice during his news conference that the United States is paying for “90% of the cost of NATO.”
All NATO members directly contribute to the organization’s budget in accordance with an agreed cost-sharing formula based on gross national income, and the US contributes about 22% to that.
For 2018, NATO has a civilian budget of about $286 million, a military budget of $1.54 billion, and a joint budget for the NATO Security Investment Program, which covers major construction and command and control system investments, which is capped at $817 million.
In addition, NATO estimated its 29 members collectively spent $917 billion on defense expenditures in 2017, with the United States representing about 67% of that total amount.
The 1984 presidential election
The President was asked about his visit to the United Kingdom, the next leg of his foreign trip, where mass protests have been organized in the cities.
Trump said he thinks the people of the UK “like me a lot” and he later made the comparison to protests on the night of the 2016 presidential election.
“But I think there were protests the night of the election both ways, but in the end, we had 306 electoral votes,” Trump said. He added, “That was the one state that Ronald Reagan didn’t win when he ran the board his second time — he didn’t win Wisconsin and we won Wisconsin.”
During the 1984 presidential election, President Ronald Reagan won Wisconsin against Democratic candidate Walter Mondale. That election, Reagan only lost in Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
2016 Electoral College results
In addition, the Electoral College results in 2016 were officially certified that December as 304 electoral votes for Trump to Hillary Clinton’s 227 because of “faithless” electors who cast their votes for other candidates. Earlier, when the votes were initially counted in November, Trump won 306 electoral votes compared to Clinton’s 232.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea
At the news conference, Trump previewed his first official summit with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, scheduled for Monday. When asked if he would recognize Crimea as part of Russia during his discussions with Putin, Trump again took the opportunity to blame an American president for the actions of Russia’s leader.
“Long before I got here, President Obama allowed that to happen. That was on his watch, not on my watch,” Trump told reporters. He added, “What will happen with Crimea from this point on? That I can’t tell you, but I’m not happy about Crimea.”
Trump has previously sought to frame Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine and its occupation of Crimea as Obama’s fault, arguing that his predecessor failed to strike the Syrian regime in 2013 after a chemical attack that crossed his “red line,” thus emboldening Putin to act in Ukraine.
CNN reported in 2014 that Obama and European allies were limited in their options to respond to Putin’s aggression. The Obama administration did not want to want to pursue a US or allied military response. Instead, the US and other world leaders ended Russia’s membership in the G8, the group of leading industrialized nations, and imposed economic sanctions. Trump has called for Russia to be readmitted to the group, now known as the G7, and he’s left the door open to recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Trump also lauded his administration’s efforts to have complete and verifiable denuclearization of North Korea. But in doing so, he continued to selectively ignore troubling signs from the North Koreans.
“We’ll see where it all ends, but there have been no missile tests, there have been no research where there has been,” Trump said.
North Korea announced in April it would be suspending its weapons testing and research.
“They have blown up a site. I hear they’re blowing up another — missile site,” Trump said, referring to his claim that Kim agreed to destroy another missile test site.
This appears to be largely true but fails to include important caveats that experts warn could be pivotal in evaluating North Korea’s sincerity. In May, North Korea invited international journalists to witness the destruction of at least three nuclear tunnels, observation buildings, a metal foundry and living quarters at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site. Critically, this occurred without weapons inspectors or nonproliferation experts present. Also, satellite images show that North Korea has made rapid improvements to infrastructure at the Yongbyon nuclear facility following the Singapore summit.
So far, there have been no reports of another testing site destroyed, though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he and North Koreans discussed the future destruction of a major missile engine testing site during his high-level talks with North Korean diplomats last week in Pyongyang.
Trump didn’t mention that his secretary of state failed to demonstrate any progress on the issue of denuclearization. Nor did he mention that North Korea officials failed to show up, without explanation, to a planned meeting with US officials Thursday.
Instead, Trump touted something that the North Koreans agreed to do with the South Koreans, saying “they’ve taken down all of the propaganda. In fact, somebody said, there’s no more music playing at the borderline.”
Ahead of an inter-Korean summit in late April, South Korea began taking down its loudspeakers used to blast propaganda and music along the demilitarized zone between it and North Korea — before Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held their June summit. Both Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to cease their audio battle as part of a joint declaration at their April summit.
“But the main thing is, there have been no rocket launches, there have been no missile tests, there’s been no nuclear tests, no explosions, no nothing for almost nine months,” Trump said.
North Korean launched nearly two-dozen missiles last year, the last one on November 29. The last recorded test of a nuclear weapon by North Korea was in September of last year.