Pompeo tours sites where he served with NATO forces as US casts doubts over the alliance

BERLIN — As Mike Pompeo visits Germany for commemorations to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is a nostalgic trip for a secretary of state who once served as a soldier patrolling the line that scarred Europe.

The visit is also a loaded one. Pompeo’s deployment as part of NATO forces in Germany came at the peak of the transatlantic relationship, when US-European cooperation helped bring down the barrier and eventually the Iron Curtain.

Yet this week he tours a Europe shaken by a US administration that has cast uncertainty over that alliance and the very institution with which he served.


In a speech in Berlin on Friday, he recalled his days as a young Army second lieutenant in the Bavarian town of Bindlach, just months before the end of the Cold War, praising the US-German cooperation that had helped to bring it to a close.

‘‘We have a duty, each of us, to defend what was so hard won,’’ he said. ‘‘And we have to do it together, because doing it alone is impossible.’’

It was a trip designed to present a united front. But behind closed doors, President Trump has threatened to pull out of NATO, the pillar of Western security cooperation against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Publicly, he has called on Europe to contribute more, deriding some of America’s closest allies as freeloaders.

The dispute is among numerous issues that have cleaved the relationship, with Europe and Washington at odds over the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord, Germany’s new gas pipeline from Russia, and the sudden US withdrawal from Syria. Trump has also sparked a transatlantic trade war by imposing tariffs on European steel and aluminum, as well as symbolic goods such as wine and cheese.


That comes against the backdrop of renewed East-West tension, with Pompeo warning Friday that authoritarianism is once again rising as he cited threats from both Russia and China. He called for a united front, although analysts said the Trump administration is doing little to forge one.

But on Friday German leaders signaled a new policy that appeared to respond to Washington’s demands: a major increase in defense spending.

In an announcement by Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Germany finally pledged to reach the NATO spending goal of 2 percent of economic output.

Speaking at a private event to honor NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Munich on Thursday, Kramp-Karrenbauer said that Europe’s ability to defend itself ‘‘starts with the defense budget.’’

President Trump, like other US leaders before him, has publicly assailed European nations such as Germany for their relatively low military spending.

But Trump is unlikely to be celebrating just yet. Although he may be happy with the German announcement, the timing will be a harder sell. Kramp-Karrenbauer set a target date of 2031 for Germany’s defense spending to reach the goal — 12 years from now.

Trump has derided the transatlantic relationship since the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

‘‘I think our country needs more ego, because it is being ripped off so badly by our so-called allies; i.e., Japan, West Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, etc.,’’ Trump told Playboy in March 1990, as the two Germanys were swiftly moving to reunify. ‘‘We Americans are laughed at around the world . . . for defending wealthy nations for nothing, nations that would be wiped off the face of the earth in about fifteen minutes if it weren’t for us. Our ‘allies’ are making billions screwing us.’’


Since his election, Trump has demanded that NATO partners meet their obligations to pay 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense, to balance the United States’s 3.5 percent commitment.

‘‘Western free nations have a responsibility to deter threats to our people,’’ said Pompeo. ‘‘We are only stronger together.’’

Asked about NATO on Friday, he said he was ‘‘for it’’ but warned that it did risk becoming obsolete if partners did not properly contribute.

President Emmanuel Macron of France went as far as to describe NATO as being in the midst of a ‘‘brain death’’ in an interview published Thursday. ‘‘You have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies,’’ he told the Economist.

Macron’s statement gave a public airing to mounting concern within the alliance, but it was criticized by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany as a step too far. ‘‘I don’t think that such sweeping judgments are necessary, even if we have problems and need to pull together,’’ she said.