Ahead of today’s Nato sum­mit, US pres­i­dent Donald Trump has re­it­er­ated that mem­bers are not con­tribut­ing enough to the al­liance’s bud­get:

US pres­i­dent ar­rives in Lon­don with is­sue of de­fence spend­ing still on agenda Nato mem­bers ex­pected to con­firm a re­duc­tion in US’s con­tri­bu­tion to its bud­get

The Irish Times - - Front Page - SUZANNE LYNCH Washington Correspond­ent

US pres­i­dent Donald Trump ar­rived in Lon­don last night for a Nato sum­mit, amid con­cerns about his coun­try’s com­mit­ment to the de­fence al­liance that is mark­ing its 70th an­niver­sary.

Speak­ing as he left Washington with his wife, Me­la­nia, Mr Trump re­it­er­ated his com­plaints that the US is con­tribut­ing too much in de­fence spend­ing com­pared with its fel­low Nato mem­bers.

“It has not been a fair sit­u­a­tion for us be­cause we pay far too much, as you know,” he said, de­scrib­ing other mem­bers as “delin­quent”.

This week’s lead­ers’ meet­ing, which opens today, comes at a chal­leng­ing time in the his­tory of the transat­lantic al­liance, which was founded in the years fol­low­ing the se­cond World War as a bul­wark against Soviet ag­gres­sion.

Mr Trump has long crit­i­cised the in­ter­na­tional body, pre­vi­ously de­scrib­ing Nato as “ob­so­lete”.

While his calls for Euro­pean mem­bers to con­trib­ute more echoes the sen­ti­ment of pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents, in­clud­ing Barack Obama, his sus­pi­cion of mul­ti­lat­eral or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Nato is un­prece­dented for a US com­man­der-in-chief.

Mr Trump has been a dis­rup­tive pres­ence at pre­vi­ous Nato meet­ings. In Brussels in June 2018, the US pres­i­dent threat­ened to pull the US out of the al­liance un­less Europe paid more, sin­gling out Ger­many in par­tic­u­lar for crit­i­cism.

Mr Trump’s un­pre­dictable be­hav­iour is per­haps one rea­son why this week’s meet­ing is shorter than usual, cen­tred on a din­ner at Buck­ing­ham Palace this evening, fol­lowed by the main ses­sion at the Grove ho­tel in Wat­ford tomorrow.

In an ef­fort to ap­pease the US pres­i­dent, Nato mem­bers are ex­pected to con­firm a re­duc­tion in the US’s con­tri­bu­tion to the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s $2.5 bil­lion op­er­at­ing bud­get – the cost of run­ning Nato’s head­quar­ters, staff and other ex­penses – with some Euro­pean mem­bers, Canada and Tur­key pay­ing more, de­spite ob­jec­tions from France. As a re­sult, the US con­tri­bu­tion will fall to 16 per cent, in line with Ger­many.

None­the­less, the ques­tion of how much Nato mem­bers

spend on their mil­i­tary is likely to pre­oc­cupy minds.

Only a hand­ful of the 29 mem­bers meet or ex­ceed the tar­get of spend­ing 2 per cent of GDP (gross do­mes­tic prod­uct) on de­fence.

On Fri­day, Nato sec­re­tary gen­eral Jens Stoltenber­g an­nounced that Euro­pean mem­bers and Canada had in­creased their de­fence spend­ing by 4.6 per cent in real terms in 2019. “This is un­prece­dented progress and it is mak­ing Nato stronger,” he said.

The White House has al­ready seized on in­di­ca­tions that al­lies are up­ping their con­tri­bu­tions, sug­gest­ing that it is a re­sult of Mr Trump’s ef­forts.

Speak­ing to re­porters ahead of Mr Trump’s de­par­ture for Lon­don, a se­nior White House of­fi­cial noted that al­lies have added more than $100 bil­lion in new spend­ing since Mr Trump has taken of­fice. “This is tremen­dous progress, and I think it is due to the pres­i­dent’s di­plo­matic work,” he said.

Mr Trump picked up on this point as he de­parted the White House yes­ter­day, say­ing that Mr Stoltenber­g had told him he was re­spon­si­ble for se­cur­ing the ex­tra fund­ing “from other coun­tries that we pro­tect – they weren’t pay­ing”.

Mr Trump has a se­ries of bi­lat­eral meet­ings on his agenda, in­clud­ing one-to-ones with Ger­man chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, French pres­i­dent Emanuel Macron and Mr Stoltenber­g. With Bri­tain due to go to the polls next week in a gen­eral elec­tion, no bi­lat­eral meet­ing has been sched­uled be­tween Mr Trump and Bri­tish prime min­is­ter Boris John­son. How­ever, the two men spoke by phone on Satur­day fol­low­ing the ter­ror­ist at­tack in Lon­don, with the White House say­ing that they “look for­ward to meet­ing with one an­other” at the Nato lead­ers’ meet­ing.

While Mr Trump is a strong sup­porter of his Bri­tish coun­ter­part, Mr John­son tact­fully said in an in­ter­view that it would be “best” if Mr Trump did not get in­volved in Bri­tain’s gen­eral elec­tion.

These days, the bar for suc­cess at a Nato sum­mit is very low. The last gath­er­ing, in Brussels last year, ended in farce when Donald Trump mused out loud about pulling the United States out of the transat­lantic al­liance, be­rated fel­low lead­ers for spend­ing too lit­tle on de­fence and then walked out in the mid­dle of a state­ment by Ger­man chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel. The two-day meet­ing that be­gins in Lon­don today – of­fi­cially not a sum­mit but a cel­e­bra­tion to mark Nato’s 70th birth­day – has been chore­ographed to min­imise the po­ten­tial for such awk­ward mo­ments. The time al­lo­cated to lead­ers’ dis­cus­sions has been kept short, and of­fi­cials have been play­ing down ex­pec­ta­tions.

That’s just as well. The al­liance is riven by in­ter­nal ten­sions, its mem­bers openly at odds over how it op­er­ates and what it should stand for. In a call last month for greater EU de­fence co-oper­a­tion, French pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron de­scribed Nato as “brain dead” and openly ques­tioned whether ar­ti­cle 5 – the mu­tual de­fence clause – could ac­tu­ally be re­lied on. Macron’s crit­i­cism was fo­cused on Trump’s uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion to with­draw troops from north­ern Syria, and Tur­key’s sub­se­quent mil­i­tary in­va­sion in the re­gion. But Macron’s com­ments rat­tled Poland and the Baltic states, left Merkel ex­as­per­ated and prompted a school­yard in­sult from Turk­ish pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, who won­dered whether it was Macron who was brain-dead.

Dishar­mony within Nato is noth­ing new. Washington has long com­plained of Euro­peans’ com­par­a­tively low spend­ing on de­fence. Mem­bers’ strate­gic pri­or­i­ties have of­ten di­verged. Charles de Gaulle with­drew France from the al­liance’s mil­i­tary com­mand struc­ture in 1966 and it re­joined only in 2009. And the al­liance has been mak­ing progress in some ar­eas, no­tably coun­tert­er­ror­ism and cy­ber­se­cu­rity.

But the cur­rent splits are se­ri­ous be­cause they go to the heart of Nato’s role at a time when the strate­gic map of the world is chang­ing rapidly. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion sees the al­liance as a bul­wark against China’s grow­ing in­flu­ence. In east­ern and cen­tral Europe, it is a vi­tal de­ter­rent against Rus­sian ag­gres­sion, yet in Macron’s view its role is not to con­tain China or even Rus­sia but to lead the fight against in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism.

The big­gest in­ter­nal threat the al­liance faces comes not from the US but from Tur­key, whose ac­tions in Syria had the ef­fect of un­der­min­ing a mil­i­tary cam­paign (against Is­lamic State) that Nato states were ac­tively in­volved in. Er­do­gan is now look­ing for Nato to clas­sify as ter­ror­ists the Kur­dish mili­tias who de­feated Isis on the bat­tle­field along­side west­ern al­lies. Mean­while, he pro­vokes his al­lies by test­ing a Nato non-com­pat­i­ble air de­fence sys­tem he re­cently bought from Rus­sia. This week’s gath­er­ing would do well to re­mind Er­do­gan that sol­i­dar­ity goes both ways.

Donald Trump: dis­rup­tive pres­ence at pre­vi­ous Nato meet­ings

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