US con­cerns over EU de­fense pact, Turkey row cloud NATO meet­ing

Business World - - THE WORLD -

BRUS­SELS — US con­cerns over the Euro­pean Union’s (EU) land­mark de­fense co­op­er­a­tion pact and in­creas­ingly strained re­la­tions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Turkey look set to loom large as North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion (NATO) de­fense min­is­ters meet for talks on Wed­nes­day.

The US and Ankara, two of the transat­lantic al­liance’s most im­por­tant mem­bers, are at log­ger­heads over Turkey’s mil­i­tary of­fen­sive in north­ern Syria, which US Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tillerson on Tues­day warned was de­tract­ing from the fight against the Is­lamic State group.

The two-day meet­ing at NATO head­quar­ters in Brus­sels is ex­pected to ap­prove changes to NATO’s com­mand struc­ture aimed at mak­ing the al­liance fit for the chal­lenges of war­fare in the 21st cen­tury, par­tic­u­larly cy­ber tac­tics and hy­brid war­fare, as fears grow about Rus­sian as­sertive­ness.

But a work­ing din­ner with EU diplo­matic chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini on Wed­nes­day night has taken on greater sig­nif­i­cance af­ter se­nior US of­fi­cials voiced fears about the bloc’s de­fense pact and NATO Sec­re­tary- Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg warned it must not un­der­mine the al­liance.

Mr. Stoltenberg said Tues­day that ef­forts to boost EU de­fense spend­ing were wel­come, but only if they were co­or­di­nated with NATO plans, warn­ing there was “no way” the EU could re­place the transat­lantic al­liance in guar­an­tee­ing Euro­pean se­cu­rity.

“It will be ab­so­lutely with­out any mean­ing if NATO and the EU start to com­pete,” the for­mer Nor­we­gian pre­mier told re­porters.

“Euro­pean al­lies are ab­so­lutely aware that the de­fence, the pro­tec­tion of Europe is de­pen­dent on NATO.”

The EU’s so-called per­ma­nent struc­tured co­op­er­a­tion on de­fense agree­ment, known as PESCO, has projects in view al­ready to de­velop new mil­i­tary equip­ment and im­prove co­op­er­a­tion and de­ci­sion mak­ing.

But on Sun­day a se­nior of­fi­cial work­ing with US De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis said Wash­ing­ton had con­cerns some of the pro­posed ini­tia­tives risked “pulling re­sources or ca­pa­bil­i­ties away from NATO.”

And on Tues­day US am­bas­sador to NATO Kay Bai­ley Hutchi­son ramped up the pres­sure, warn­ing the EU there could be se­ri­ous con­se­quences if it shuts US de­fense com­pa­nies out of co­op­er­a­tion projects.

“Cer­tainly we do not want this to be a pro­tec­tion­ist ve­hi­cle for the EU and we’re go­ing to watch care­fully, be­cause if that be­comes the case then it could splin­ter the strong se­cu­rity al­liance that we have,” she told re­porters.

The US con­cerns have sur­prised some Euro­pean diplo­mats, with one in­sist­ing that EU de­fense co­op­er­a­tion poses no threat to NATO, adding that “a lit­tle ex­plana­tory work” is re­quired to clar­ify mat­ters with the Amer­i­cans.

Wed­nes­day’s din­ner now rep­re­sents an im­por­tant chance for Ms. Mogherini to re­as­sure the US, which is NATO’s big­gest con­trib­u­tor.

AFP

NATO Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg gives a joint press con­fer­ence with the Por­tuguese de­fense min­is­ter in Lis­bon on Jan. 26.

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