BRUSSELS – A U.S. president who wants to build walls is celebrating the collapse of one of the world’s most iconic barriers: the Berlin Wall.
Donald Trump looked on Thursday as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg unveiled two sections of the Berlin Wall that divided the German city until 1989, in a ceremony at the site of NATO’s new headquarters.
Merkel, who was born in the former East Germany, said the wall that divided the country impacted her life for many years. She said she had learned that it’s “not walls that will be successful, but open societies that are built on common values.”
The pieces, standing together, form a monument about 6.5 feet by more than 6.5 feet wide. One is painted with an eye and the graffiti “Gorby sees all” — a reference to then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and police states of the Cold War era.
The monument symbolizes efforts to end the disunity in Europe — and confronts Trump with an example of how walls can damage and divide as he promotes erecting one on the Mexican border to keep immigrants from entering the U.S. illegally.
It’s not the only awkward symbolism at the NATO summit.
Trump and Stoltenberg also unveiled a piece of one of the World Trade Center towers downed by al-Qaida extremists on Sept. 11, 2001, a steel beam from the 107th floor of what was known as the North Tower. The beam and the Berlin Wall fragments now stand in the garden leading into the new NATO headquarters, slated to be completed later this year.
It’s a reminder of NATO’s commitment to its collective defense clause — so-called Article 5 — which commits allies to defend any of the 28 members that come under attack. It has only ever been activated once, after 9/11.
Trump, who wants Europeans to pay their fair share of military spending and do more to fight terrorism, has so far refused to commit to abide by Article 5.
By putting him in front of the World Trade Center monument, NATO left the president with an indelible image of what the alliance has done for the U.S. — just as allies are waiting for Trump to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to Europe’s defense.
But even as Trump acknowledged the support of NATO partners, he used the solemn ceremony to harangue other leaders for their failure to spend enough on defense.
“NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations,” he said as his 27 counterparts looked on in silence.