NATO’s 70th birthday overshadowed by skeptic-in-chief
WASHINGTON – In normal times, NATO’s 70th anniversary would bring alliance leaders together for elaborate ceremonies, self-congratulatory speeches and declarations of unshakable unity. Not when they’re meeting in Donald Trump’s Washington.
Instead, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has opted for a more subdued commemoration this week. As foreign ministers gather at the State Department and fan out across town for speeches and conferences, they’ll be watching their Twitter feeds to see whether President Trump uses the occasion to belittle their efforts and question their cause.
“NATO is not looking for a highprofile event with Donald Trump,” said Doug Lute, a former U.S. ambassador to the alliance during the Obama administration. “This is unprecedented. We’re at the 70th anniversary but the first time where allies have doubted the commitment of the American president.”
These aren’t happy days for NATO. Trump has repeatedly questioned the utility of the alliance to his “America First” foreign policy and regularly complains that the U.S. is being shortchanged because few other members meet the goal of spending at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.
He may renew those complaints today, when NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is scheduled to meet with the president at the White House. So far Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway, has succeeded in finessing Trump’s criticism by showering him with praise and credit.
“I expect that the message from President Trump will be that the United States is committed to NATO – that NATO is important for our shared security – but at the same that we need a fairer sharing of the burden,” Stoltenberg told reporters on Monday in Brussels about the planned talks at the White House. “This has been a very consistent message of President Trump.”
Stoltenberg may be more tempted to allude to differences over Trump’s policies when he speaks to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.
On Monday, Stoltenberg said members of the 29-nation NATO “disagree on many issues” but such differences are neither new nor unusual for an alliance made up of democracies.
“The strength of NATO is that, despite these differences, we have always been able to unite around our core task and that is to protect and defend each other,” he said.