NATO’s 70th birth­day over­shad­owed by skep­tic-in-chief

The Buffalo News - - WORLD NEWS - By Nick Wad­hams and Jonathan Stearns

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.

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