Ber­lin and Paris re­sist Trump plans for Nato

Financial Times USA - - INTERNATIONAL - ARTHUR BEESLEY — BRUS­SELS

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

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