America's closest allies emerge from a NATO summit that felt like a giant group therapy session relieved that no fundamental damage was done, Axios' Jonathan Swan emails from Brussels:
- "The Europeans felt a constant need to validate NATO and defensively explain why it’s worthwhile. Trump is the shadow over everything here and even when a foreign official tries to avoid mentioning him, their remarks seem aimed at him."
- "A European official told me: 'We try leave emotions out, so we just don’t think about if we’re angry. We focus on the outcome which is the communiqué. We are happy with that.'”
- "A lot of it comes down to wishful thinking: When I questioned [NATO Secretary General Jens] Stoltenberg yesterday he chose to totally ignore Trump’s public rhetoric and praise what the U.S. has been doing. So long as Trump doesn’t act on his apparent instincts to reduce U.S. commitments overseas, foreign leaders will — publicly at least — keep pretending everything is ok and normal."
Catch up quick: The summit began with Trump berating allies for not spending enough on defense, and declaring Germany is "captive" to Russia due to a pipeline deal. It ended with a press conference in which Trump claimed allies had pledged to increase spending more than expected (France's Emmanuel Macron disagreed) and reiterated America's commitment to the alliance.
The big picture, from Tarun Chhabra of Brookings, who emails that U.S. administrations from both parties have been pressuring Europe for decades to raise defense spending, "or else."
- "The difference now is that the 'or else' is here: Trump doesn’t believe we share a long-term common interest with Europe in sustaining free and open societies from growing authoritarian pressure, subversion, and aggression. He therefore doesn’t believe Russia poses a real threat."
- Threatening NATO didn't work in the past because "they knew we believed in NATO and would push but not shove. Now, Trump has leverage, but our allies are getting the sense he’ll never be satisfied — because he ultimately doesn’t believe in NATO."
- "The summit could have been much worse, but we’re hardly out of the woods. The higher stakes for NATO are at the follow-on summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki."
Smart takes, from the Axios Expert Voices network:
Go deeper: Read Swan's report from Brussels.