After a second disastrous NATO summit in a row, Canadians have been left wondering whether U.S. President Donald Trump could take further trade action against Canada, following a year-long standoff over steel and aluminium between May 2018 and May 2019.
The 70th anniversary summit, held his week in Watford, England, began and ended in acrimony startling even for the era of Trump. And back in the U.S. on Thursday, Trump hinted that a bad week for Canada could be about to get worse.
Divisions in the 29-member NATO club alliance were laid bare in England on Tuesday, as Trump criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for comments last month about NATO’s strategic “brain death,” and described allies who spent too little on defence as “delinquent” — among them Canada.
Officials had been hoping to avoid bust-ups like those at the same meeting last year, when Trump complained about allies failing to bear their side of the financial burden. His complaint has been that some of NATO’s 29 members are not spending two per cent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defence, as agreed in 2014 as an indirect response to Russian aggression in Crimea.
This time around, Trump started the week by hammering the same theme, saying Tuesday that Canada was behind monetarily. Canada wasn’t alone; in a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump complained that Berlin was “a little bit under” the target.
“Slightly delinquent, I would say Canada, but they’ll be okay. I have confidence,” he said then. “Some are major delinquents, well below one per cent, and then if something happens we’re supposed to defend them? And it’s not really fair.”
But after events Tuesday evening, relations between Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a turn for the worse. At a Buckingham Palace reception that night, Trudeau was caught on camera with Macron, Britain’s Boris Johnson and Mark Rutte of the Netherlands laughing at Trump. The video showed Trudeau chatting about Trump’s long impromptu press conferences.
“I just watched — watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” Trudeau said in the recording, eyes wide in imitation. He later said he was talking about Trump’s unexpected announcement that the United States will host the next G7 leaders’ summit at Camp David, an idea Trump had previously raised but not finalized.
Trump, though, said Trudeau was upset because he had called him out for not meeting his two per cent target. At present, Canada’s NATO defence spending is at 1.31 per cent of GDP, and Trump is reported to have used the word “delinquent” again on Wednesday behind closed doors during the summit.
“He’s two-faced,” Trump said of Trudeau. And now, after leaving the summit without holding a final press conference, Trump seems to be hinting at more to come.
On Thursday, speaking in D.C., he said meetings with the nine nations (out of NATO’s 29) who have reached their two per cent targets had gone well, but others remained who are still not pulling their weight, CTV reported.
“Some (countries are) really not close and we may have to do something with trade,” he told reprsentatives of the UN Security Council, CTV reported. “It’s not fair that they get U.S. protection. They’re not putting up their money.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, speaking on CTV on Thursday, was hesitant to say that relations had been damaged at the summit. This, despite the fact that Trump seems to have left England with a bitter taste in his mouth, and appears to be open to initiating further trade action over the NATO imbalance.
“We did have some difficult conversations along the way, but have developed a really effective working relationship,” she said.
“I think we would agree that the current U.S. administration (and) the current government of Canada disagree about a lot of things and we’re candid with each other about that.”
— with files from National Post staff