Speaking with the McClatchy newspaper company, former US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that European officials worried that Trump preferred the “America First” approach to the transatlantic alliance.
"They are scared to death. They are worried about a very unpredictable president of the United States. They are increasingly worried he is going to do things not based on what's in the best interest … but based solely on his vision of 'America First,'" Panetta said.
According to the outlet, European authorities are concerned that Donald Trump would follow through with his election campaign promise to withdraw US troops from the continent if European nations fail to contribute more to defense.
Panetta’s comments came amid President Trump’s persistent complaint that the United States’ financial burden for European security was too heavy. Even though the issue of “underspending” is not expected to be on the agenda of the upcoming NATO summit, some extent of uncertainty remains, as it comes just days before Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
Last month, he sent letters to a number of allies complaining that they didn’t meet defense spending thresholds, which set a target of 2 percent of a member state’s GDP for national defense.
When asked what types of actions the president was planning if NATO member states didn’t comply with his demand for more funding, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley declined to elaborate.
“I’m not going to get ahead of any announcement or any action he could potentially take, but as you guys know, he’s shown some frustration there on the financial burden that the United States unfairly is forced to bear, and he wants changes,” he told reporters earlier this week.
According to the Pew Research Center, over 60,000 US troops are currently stationed in Europe – 35,000 in Germany, 12,000 in Italy, 8,500 in Britain, and 3,300 in Spain, while thousands more rotate into other European nations temporarily.