During the course of last week’s private talks, President Trump handed German Chancellor Angela Merkel an invoice for $375 billion that he’d printed out himself, saying it was an estimate from US officials on how much money Germany owes NATO for expenses defending them.
Trump played up the idea of Germany owing “vast sums of money” to NATO and the United States during last week’s visit, but did not reveal that he’d handed Merkel such an invoice. The move didn’t sit well with the German government, which condemned the move as an attempt to intimidate the chancellor.
It isn’t totally clear where Trump’s aides came up with the $375 billion figure, but NATO has been pressing member nations to spend at least 2% of their GDP annually on the military, and Germany spends somewhat less than that. Despite this giving Germany one of the world’s most expensive militaries, and despite them being on good terms with all their neighbors, the Trump Administration is eager to play this up as something they can bill Germany for.
They can’t actually do so, of course. There is no mechanism by which NATO can fine member nations for not spending more money. If anything, the administration’s escalation of the rhetoric is fueling more resistance from nations like Germany, arguing that a straight percentage of military expense isn’t a good metric for contributions to international order.