Diplo­mats say France’s Macron also poses risk at 70th an­niver­sary sum­mit

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MICHAEL BIRN­BAUM michael.birn­[email protected]­post.com


have taken steps to avoid ex­plo­sions from Pres­i­dent Trump and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron at NATO’S 70th an­niver­sary sum­mit.

brus­sels — NATO lead­ers are gath­er­ing in Lon­don on Tues­day to cel­e­brate the 70th an­niver­sary of the mil­i­tary al­liance — and or­ga­niz­ers are hop­ing to avoid any fire­works.

Ner­vous­ness is run­ning high about Pres­i­dent Trump’s com­mit­ment to the al­liance, which was founded to de­fend Europe from the Soviet Union and has evolved to take on se­cu­rity is­sues be­yond the con­ti­nent.

At pre­vi­ous NATO meet­ings, Trump de­clined to af­firm the Ar­ti­cle 5 prin­ci­ple that an at­tack on one is an at­tack on all, and he in­ti­mated that he would pull the United States out if Euro­peans didn’t spend more on their own de­fense.

This time, or­ga­niz­ers are fight­ing a multi-front bat­tle against slinged ar­rows from friends, with French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron join­ing the fray with gusto. The French leader has been in­censed by the United States’ lack of co­or­di­na­tion with its al­lies, in Syria and else­where, and in an in­ter­view last month de­clared NATO had suf­fered “brain death.”

A NATO diplo­mat, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity to sum up dys­pep­sia in­side the group’s glassy Brus­sels head­quar­ters, said, “There’s a 50-50 chance that this goes south,” with both Trump and Macron tak­ing a dash at the al­liance’s fine china.

Ev­ery last de­tail of this an­niver­sary get-to­gether has been chore­ographed to en­sure that Trump’s hap­pi­ness will be max­i­mized and any op­por­tu­ni­ties to blow up the pro­gram, or the al­liance, min­i­mized.

Or­ga­niz­ers are try­ing to keep things tight and bright.

NATO lead­ers will get a dose of re­gal hos­pi­tal­ity at a Buck­ing­ham Palace re­cep­tion with Queen El­iz­a­beth II on Tues­day evening. A for­mal NATO sit­down din­ner isn’t hap­pen­ing, though.

And then, in­stead of two days of meet­ings, as is com­mon for full-fledged sum­mits, there will be a sin­gle three-hour ses­sion at an 18th-cen­tury es­tate out­side Lon­don on Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

The agenda has been tai­lored to Trump’s in­ter­ests. There’s a largely sym­bolic con­ces­sion from Ger­many to save U.S. cash by spend­ing more to pay to keep NATO’S lights on — which diplo­mats hope Trump will seize as a vic­tory out of pro­por­tion with its size. There’s also a re­port that looks at China’s role as a chal­lenge for the al­liance. And de­fense spend­ing fig­ures have been cal­cu­lated to em­pha­size Trump’s in­flu­ence in get­ting al­lies to share the bur­den.

Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenber­g said at a Fri­day news con­fer­ence that the 28 non-u.s. mem­bers of NATO have in­vested $130 bil­lion in their de­fense since 2016 — an un­usual way of pre­sent­ing spend­ing in­creases that started af­ter Rus­sia’s 2014 an­nex­a­tion of Crimea.

NATO diplo­mats say pri­vately that the 2016 peg is for Trump’s ben­e­fit. They ac­knowl­edge that Trump’s spend-more-or-else ap­proach has in­deed scared up more de­fense ex­pen­di­tures.

The U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion has been glad to take credit.

“We’ve done amaz­ing work over our time in of­fice to get NATO to step up, those coun­tries to spend more money to se­cure them­selves and to se­cure the world,” Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo told Fox News on Mon­day. “We’re very proud of what’s been ac­com­plished un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion at NATO.”

One se­nior NATO diplo­mat — who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to be frank about chal­lenges ahead of the meet­ing — de­scribed the al­liance as suf­fer­ing from “PTSD,” or post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, with Stoltenber­g and oth­ers fo­cused nar­rowly on how ev­ery al­liance de­ci­sion might play out in­side the Oval Of­fice.

When pressed at Fri­day’s news con­fer­ence about tar­get­ing the gath­er­ing to­ward Trump, Stoltenber­g said the things that make the White House happy are also good for al­liance se­cu­rity.

“Pres­i­dent Trump is right about the im­por­tance of Euro­pean al­lies and Canada spend­ing more,” Stoltenber­g said. “But Euro­pean al­lies and Canada should not in­vest in de­fense to please Pres­i­dent Trump. They should in­vest in de­fense be­cause we are faced with new threats and new chal­lenges.”

NATO pol­i­cy­mak­ers de­scribe a strangely bi­fur­cated mo­ment, where U.S. de­ploy­ments to Europe are at re­cent heights, the al­liance has moved to close many of the se­cu­rity gaps ex­posed af­ter the Rus­sian in­va­sion of Ukraine in 2014 and se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion is closer than ever.

Po­lit­i­cally, though, NATO is in a tight spot, with both Trump and Macron tak­ing aim at some of the al­liance’s core val­ues.

Turk­ish lead­ers, mean­while, are trum­pet­ing that they have held up ap­proval of clas­si­fied mil­i­tary de­fense plans for East­ern Europe be­cause they want tougher NATO lan­guage about U. S.-aligned Kur­dish fight­ing groups in north­east Syria, which Tur­key calls ter­ror­ists. The im­passe puts fur­ther strain on the al­liance.

“This sum­mit is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent in the sense that there are at least two, pos­si­bly three dis­rupters con­verg­ing on a quiet shire some­where out­side Lon­don: Pres­i­dent Trump, Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan and Pres­i­dent Macron,” said To­mas Valasek, a for­mer Slo­vakian am­bas­sador to NATO. “At least one Euro­pean leader seems to have had enough and is no longer in a pla­cat­ing mood.”

Stoltenber­g flew to Paris last week to talk to Macron ahead of the meet­ing. But in a joint news con­fer­ence, the French pres­i­dent did not ap­pear to have been ap­peased.

“We needed a wake-up call to con­tinue, and I’m pretty glad about it that this was the case,” Macron said. “We have the re­spon­si­bil­ity of not sim­ply con­tin­u­ing to talk about fi­nan­cial is­sues, given what the gen­uine chal­lenges are to­day.”

For some diplo­mats, Macron’s fo­cus on prob­lems at NATO has been just as chal­leng­ing as Trump’s push on spend­ing. In East­ern Europe, lead­ers feel that call­ing into ques­tion NATO’S de­fense com­mit­ments could em­bolden Rus­sia to at­tack. In Ger­many, Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel has been force­ful in her push­back.

“The preser­va­tion of NATO is in our fun­da­men­tal in­ter­est to­day, even more so than in the Cold War, or at least as strongly as in the Cold War,” Merkel told her par­lia­ment on Wed­nes­day.

And Macron’s Thurs­day com­ments along­side Stoltenber­g fur­ther frus­trated many at NATO, af­ter he ap­peared to down­play Rus­sia as a core fo­cus of the al­liance and boosted ter­ror­ism as the main pri­or­ity in­stead.

“I hear some say­ing that Rus­sia or China is our en­emy,” Macron said. “I don’t think so. Our joint en­emy, clearly within the al­liance, is ter­ror­ism that’s struck our coun­tries.”

NATO blames Rus­sia for pil­ing up nu­clear weapons at its door, try­ing to un­der­mine al­liance democ­ra­cies, team­ing with its en­e­mies in Syria, con­duct­ing a wide­spread cy­ber­se­cu­rity cam­paign, and spark­ing a war on Euro­pean soil in Ukraine. Many pol­i­cy­mak­ers feel it makes sense to keep fo­cused on the Krem­lin.

The last time NATO lead­ers got to­gether, in July 2018, Trump hi­jacked one of the sum­mit’s clos­ing ses­sions to de­mand greater spend­ing com­mit­ments on the spot from fel­low lead­ers. Anx­ious diplo­mats and min­is­ters rushed in and out of the closed-door ses­sion look­ing ex­hausted. Some later said they had feared Trump would pull the United States out of NATO if he didn’t get what he wanted, an earth­quake for the post-world War II global or­der.

In prepa­ra­tion for this meet­ing, for­eign and de­fense min­is­ters signed off on the big­gest NATO de­ci­sions ahead of time, in­stead of leav­ing them for lead­ers to ap­prove in per­son. Now, lead­ers can cel­e­brate the in­di­vid­ual moves, but no one can hold the changes hostage.

Ad­di­tion­ally, this past week­end, NATO diplo­mats ham­mered out a two-page dec­la­ra­tion for the lead­ers to en­dorse, a small vic­tory in the kabuki of sum­mitry that the diplo­mats hope will help em­pha­size al­liance unity. As late as Fri­day, diplo­mats were un­sure whether there would be a dec­la­ra­tion at all.

And, as a par­tial sop to Macron, they will agree to a start a “process for reflection” about NATO’S long-term strat­egy — look­ing past NATO’S short-term, Trump-gen­er­ated chal­lenges.


NATO coun­try flags are on dis­play in Lon­don be­fore the 70th an­niver­sary sum­mit. Fes­tiv­i­ties in­clude a Buck­ing­ham Palace re­cep­tion with Queen El­iz­a­beth II and a meet­ing at an 18th-cen­tury es­tate.

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