NATO meets amid divisions
Friction among allies reveals differing goals
NATO opens a two- day meeting in London on Tuesday amid heightened trans- Atlantic tensions. President Donald Trump has balked about dues, and France and Germany have clashed over the group’s relevance.
LONDON – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has warned that if President Donald Trump is re- elected in 2020 “there will be no NATO.” French President Emmanuel Macron says the military alliance is experiencing “brain death.” When Turkey invaded Syria in October with little coordination with Europe and the United States, analysts say it illustrated Ankara’s disorderly and discordant NATO membership.
Twenty- nine leaders from North American and European governments, including Trump, will congregate at a luxury hotel on the outskirts of London on Tuesday and Wednesday for a NATO meeting. They will discuss a variety of strategic economic and security issues: threats from cyberspace, terrorism, Syria’s 8- year- old civil war, China’s growing military might, an assertive Russia, space warfare and more.
“NATO is needed more now than at any point since the end of the Cold War,” said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former NATO secretary general who was prime minister of Denmark, in an interview.
“Not least because of Russian aggression against Ukraine,” he added, referring to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
“We need NATO to strengthen the territorial defense of our allies.”
But this week’s gathering in London comes amid heightened transatlantic frictions over an alliance that was founded in 1949 in response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union and designed to act as a bulwark again nationalist militarism through a strong U. S. presence on the continent and by encouraging European political integration.
Since taking office, Trump has accused NATO members of insufficiently paying to sustain an alliance that contributes to Europe’s safety. He has demanded that NATO members double a defense spending goal of 2% of economic output, set in 2014 as Jens Stoltenberg took over from Rasmussen as NATO’s secretary general.
Stoltenberg announced Thursday that NATO members agreed to reduce the United States’ contribution to the alliance’s $ 2.5 billion annual budget, to 16% from 22%. It covers such things as staff, the headquarters in Brussels and some joint military exercises. The budget is separate from defense spending. It also represents a fraction of the $ 700 billion Washington spends each year on the Pentagon. But the move may have been an attempt to mollify Trump or ward off any disruptive comments from him in London.
The U. S. leader repeatedly has maligned the accord and even pushed allies to abandon it, saying the U. S. is “getting raped” by NATO, according to an account published in “A Warning,” an anonymously authored book about Trump’s turbulent presidency.
Other leaders also have raised issues with the alliance.
Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s two most powerful and influential politicians, have clashed in recent weeks over where NATO is heading in the longer term. In a Nov. 7 interview with The Economist magazine, Macron mused about the alliance’s weaknesses and made it clear that he favors a far more robust European- led NATO that is more willing to react to crises on or near its borders.
He also questioned whether Article 5, one of NATO’s cornerstones – the mutual defense principle that an attack on one ally is an attack on all – was fit for its purpose.
Macron criticized NATO’s failure to prevent Turkey’s offensive in Syria, aimed at rooting out Kurdish fighters who Turkey sees as terrorists but who helped battle the Islamic State.
He also has urged NATO leaders to review the alliance’s strategy of focusing on the threat from Russia. Instead, he wants to shift its focus toward antiterrorism.
Merkel — who has dominated European politics for more than a decade and built up a reputation as its quiet, pragmatist- in- chief temperamentally resistant to big, performative statements or policy changes — described Macron’s remarks as “drastic.”
It was a rare, dissenting public intervention from Merkel aimed at France’s leader.
“Such a sweeping attack is not necessary,” she said, standing alongside Stoltenberg in Berlin on Nov. 7. NATO’s Norwegian chief was in the German capital for events linked to the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“The reunification of Germany and Europe would have been impossible without the United States’ security guarantee,” Stoltenberg said. “Any attempt to distance Europe from North America will not only weaken the transatlantic alliance, it also risks dividing Europe itself.”
“NATO is needed more now than at any point since the end of the Cold War.”
Anders Fogh Rasmussen
Former NATO secretary general
DONALD TRUMP BY AP, EMMANUEL MACRON AND ANGELA MERKEL