Berlin and Paris resist Trump plans for Nato
Donald Trump’s attempt to bring Nato into the coalition against Isis is facing resistance from Germany and France, as the US president prepares to visit the alliance headquarters next week.
Washington is pushing for agreement at a May 25 summit to give Nato a formal role in the anti-Isis coalition. That would bolster co-ordination efforts, sharpen the alliance’s focus on terrorism and demonstrate solidarity.
All of Nato’s 28 members already belong to the anti-Isis coalition of 68 countries and diplomats say that joining would not lead to the alliance itself participating in combat operations.
But Berlin and Paris have signalled reservations, leaving the issue in doubt before next week’s summit.
“They want to maintain a gap between what Nato does and the coalition,” said a senior Nato diplomat, who cited concern in Berlin and Paris that joining the coalition could put the alliance on an “escalator” towards taking responsibility for the fight against Isis in Syria and Iraq.
One possible precedent is Afghanistan, where Nato led an anti-Taliban force for more than 10 years, from 2003 to 2014, replacing a US-led coalition.
Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, has left her options open in advance of the summit but the senior diplomat and other Nato figures said Berlin, like Paris, remains “very cautious” about Nato joining. Italy is also sceptical of the plan, other diplomats added.
Although Nato provides significant air surveillance support in battles against militants and training for Iraqi troops, sceptics worry that bringing in the alliance would yield only limited benefits.
Nato remains a controversial organisation in the Middle East. Anxiety is also felt that its membership of the coalition would overshadow the participation of regional powers such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
However, another Nato diplomat said Washington had “strongly made” the case for Nato to join the coalition in intensive bilateral talks with allies before the Brussels meeting. The basic objective was to send a fresh signal of western support for the coalition and deepen links with Nato.
“It would make sense in terms of prac- tical support,” the diplomat added. “It would enable Nato to sit at the table together with all members of the coalition and to exchange information — and be in a better position to establish where Nato can add value in terms of what allies are already doing on a national basis.”
Mr Trump’s focus on Nato comes despite his attacks on the alliance, both on the campaign trail and in office. Last month he reversed track, declaring Nato to be “no longer obsolete”, when receiving Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, at the White House.
Mr Stoltenberg has said he hopes Nato can reach a decision on joining the coalition by the time of its summit. While most Nato members back joining, the alliance operates according to consensus. At a meeting with Mr Stoltenberg last week, Ms Merkel said: “I have encouraged the secretary-general to continue these talks and maybe to bring the discussion to an end by May 25.”
She added: “We are in discussions on this topic, on how far Nato can go to officially join the ranks of the coalition.”
Mr Trump’s attendance at the summit is part of a nine-day tour to Europe and the Middle East that will include talks with EU leaders while he is in Brussels.
Allies expect Mr Trump to reiterate Washington’s support for Nato at the talks, which come amid US pressure on allies to boost military expenditure. Jim Mattis, US defence secretary, has warned that Washington may “moderate” support for Nato if allies do not raise spending. But diplomats do not expect moves to bring forward the 2024 deadline for meeting its spending goal: 2 per cent of national economic output, a level that 23 of the 28 allies do not meet.
Jens Stoltenberg: Nato’s secretarygeneral is seeking a consensus