Posts Tagged ‘Jens Stoltenberg’

NATO summit focus shifts to Afghanistan

July 12, 2018

AFP and Reuters

© Benoit Doppagne, Pool, AFP | Belgian PM Charles Michel (2L) and his partner Amelie Derbaudrenghien (L) greet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in Brussels on July 11, 2018.

NATO leaders will try on Thursday to move beyond Donald Trump’s demands for higher defence spending, and focus on ending the long war in Afghanistan, in the second day of a summit in Brussels underscored by transatlantic tensions.

On a trip that will also take the U.S. president to Britain and to Helsinki to meet Russia’s Vladimir PutinTrump spent the first day of the NATO summit lambasting allies for failing to spend the targeted 2 percent of GDP on defence and accused Germany of being a prisoner to Russian energy.

On day two, leaders will welcome non-NATO partners including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko to the alliance’s new glass-and-steel headquarters as they seek to focus on policy rather than politics.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May tried to set the tone on Wednesday by announcing more troops for NATO’s Afghan training mission.

“We will be deploying an additional 440 personnel to NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan and I think that shows when NATO calls, the UK is one of the first to step up,” May told reporters.

NATO’s chief Jens Stoltenberg wants leaders to agree to fund Afghan security forces until 2024, despite public fatigue in Western countries about their involvement in the conflict.

Funding has averaged at about $1 billion annually and Stoltenberg has said he expected that level to be met.

Leaders will be keen to hear more about Trump’s military approach to Afghanistan, which he revamped last August to include a surge in air strikes to force Taliban militants to the negotiating table.

U.S. officials have told Reuters Washington is preparing another review of strategy, a year after Trump begrudgingly agreed to extend involvement in the 17-year-old war.

Trump was opposed to remaining in America’s longest war, but his advisers convinced him to give it more time. He authorized the deployment an additional 3,000 troops, bringing the total to around 15,000.

At the summit, leaders will discuss ties with Georgia and Ukraine, two NATO membership hopefuls who contribute to troop levels in Afghanistan but have seen their chances of joining the alliance hampered by Russian incursions into their territory.

Under NATO rules, countries with territorial conflicts cannot join the Western alliance and neither country is expected to progress in membership talks.

Macedonia, however, which was formally invited to start accession talks on Wednesday, will be part of a special ceremony on Thursday as the alliance sets the stage for expanding to its 30th member state.



Trump and Merkel Clash at NATO Summit Over Defense Spending, Russian Gas Deal

July 11, 2018

U.S. president calls Germany ‘captive to Russia’ because of gas pipeline deal

President Donald Trump, shown talking to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, began his visit to Europe by accusing Angela Merkel and Germany of being “captive to Russia.”
President Donald Trump, shown talking to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, began his visit to Europe by accusing Angela Merkel and Germany of being “captive to Russia.” PHOTO: MARKUS SCHREIBER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

BRUSSELS—The NATO summit opened Wednesday to an acrimonious start as President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel exchanged heated barbs over Berlin’s defense spending and support for a major gas deal with Russia.

Mr. Trump began his visit by accusing Germany of being “captive to Russia” because of its support for Nord Stream 2, an offshore pipeline that would bring gas directly from Russia via the Baltic Sea.

Speaking in a meeting with North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Mr. Trump called Germany’s support for the project “very sad,” and said, “We’re supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia.”

Turning to Mr. Stoltenberg, he said: “Explain that.”

Mr. Trump also criticized Germany’s defense spending as “inappropriate,” and called for NATO allies to increase their defense spending while saying the U.S. was “spending far too much” on defense.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel fired back that Germany makes “independent policies” and “independent decisions” and reminded the U.S. that Germany has the largest share of its defense spending that goes into NATO.

Recalling her own experience living in a part of Germany that was controlled by the Soviet Union, she said, “I am very happy today that we are united in freedom…Because of that, we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions.”

The clash between the two leaders deepened the tense atmosphere surrounding the summit, where leaders had been bracing themselves following months of attacks from Mr. Trump on allies’ defense spending levels, and dashed the hopes of diplomats and some U.S. officials for a meeting that would showcase unity ahead of Mr. Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week.

A NATO official said that expectations were very low for the summit, given Mr. Trump’s unabashed criticism of Germany. “The mood ahead of the G-7 was also quite bad and still it ended worse than expected,” the official said.

Mr. Trump and Ms. Merkel are set to meet later Wednesday on the sidelines of the summit, and the president is expected to reiterate his concerns about German support for the Russian gas deal, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

The two leaders have had a tense relationship under the Trump administration, as Mr. Trump has repeatedly attacked Germany’s defense spending and immigration policies. The pair at one point went five months without speaking—a rarity for two nations that have been close allies in recent decades.

Mr. Trump’s criticism of Germany’s relationship with Russia comes days before he is set to meet with Mr. Putin in Helsinki in an effort to reset U.S. relations with Moscow. He has met frequent criticism in Washington for appearing overly friendly toward Mr. Putin, including when he congratulated the Russian leader on his election victory earlier this year despite being advised by national security officials not to do so.

Many NATO allies also are wary of Mr. Trump’s efforts to improve relations with Mr. Putin, whom he has often praised even during a continued investigation into Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. Several nations, including the U.K., expressed concern about Mr. Trump’s call earlier this year for Russia to rejoin the G-7, four years after it was expelled over its annexation of Crimea.

German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said of Mr. Trump’s comments on the gas project: “I don’t really understand what he means by that.”

Poland’s foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, also criticized the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project that Germany backs. At an event on the sidelines of the summit, he called the project a “mistake.”

Germany is the biggest importer of natural gas from Russia in the EU, accounting for more than 20% of the purchases in 2017 by the 28-member bloc, according to the EU’s statistics agency Eurostat. Russian imports made up about 40% of Germany’s annual gas purchases for the past two years.

After leaving the NATO summit early Thursday afternoon, Mr. Trump will continue his seven-day swing through Europe with a meet in London with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May before traveling on to Scotland, where he owns two golf courses, and finally Helsinki.

President Donald Trump speaks to NATO members during the bilateral breakfast at the start of the two-day summit.
President Donald Trump speaks to NATO members during the bilateral breakfast at the start of the two-day summit. PHOTO: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has clashed with several of the world leaders attending the NATO summit. Following the G-7 summit in Canada last month, the president tweeted that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was “dishonest” and “weak.” He also tangled with French President Emmanuel Macron over tariffs, after Mr. Macron said the six other nations would band together without the U.S. if necessary.

Mr. Trump is set to meet with Mr. Macron later Wednesday.

As Mr. Trump shook hands with Mr. Stoltenberg at the outset of their meeting Wednesday morning, he quipped that the secretary-general liked him.

“He may be the only one,” Mr. Trump added. “But that’s OK with me.”

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at and Valentina Pop

NATO summit: Poland pins its hopes on the USA

July 11, 2018

Poland is expected to use the Brussels meeting to urge a greater presence in Eastern Europe. Warsaw is also lobbying for what it regards to be a key guarantor for stability: A permanent US troop presence in the country.

NATO soldiers performing a maneuver in Poland (Imago/Zumapress)

NATO is currently debating plans to expand its rapid deployment forces, but that in itself is not a true safety guarantee for Warsaw.

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak welcomes the new “4 x 30” NATO initiative that aims to significantly raise the troops’ preparedness by 2020, but he only sees “real military potential” on the US side, and not among European NATO partners.

“We’re striving for a permanent US troop presence,” Blaszczak said, arguing that this is important for Poland and the Polish people. Thousands of US soldiers have been stationed in Poland since 2017 in the framework of the “Enhanced Forward Presence” NATO initiative.

These troops rotate every few months, and their numbers are not set. As far as the Polish government is concerned, only permanent military bases equal security.

Read more: NATO desperate to avoid rerun of disastrous G7 summit

A billion-dollar deal

And Warsaw is prepared to pay. A document entitled “Proposal for a US Permanent Presence in Poland” surfaced in the media in May, with the Polish government urging permanent deployment of a US armored division in the country. The Polish government will offer significant funding for this action, about $1.5 billion to $2 billion (€1.3 billion to €1.7 billion), “as it is important to share the burden of defense spending,” according to the document.

The Polish Defense Ministry confirmed the document, which was not kept secret but sent to various institutions and think tanks, as real. The government argues it feels threatened by Russia. The US Senate Defense Committee has suggested the Pentagon assess the Polish proposal.

Recent media reports about US President Donald Trump’s alleged plans to withdraw troops from Germany and move them to Poland raised hopes in Poland. The reports were denied, but a new debate about a permanent US military presence in Poland was already underway.

No matter their political convictions, most Poles — and not just supporters of the national-conservative PiS (Law and Justice party) government — are in favor of the plan. According to a recent opinion poll by the CBOS polling institute, 67 percent of Poles are in favor of stationing US soldiers permanently in the country.

The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act forbids stationing troops permanently on the alliance’s eastern flank, but Warsaw doesn’t see that as a problem.

The Act also obligates Russia to limit troop deployment in Europe. Polish experts argue Russia breached the Act four years ago when it annexed Crimea.

US military vehicles in Germany convoying to Poland (picture-alliance/dpa-Zentralbild/R. Hirschberger)For many Poles, US military vehicles like these are a welcome sight

NATO model member state fears Russia

Poland would also regard a permanent US presence as a reward. The country has long been a model NATO member state, as it is one of the few states that actually spend the required 2 percent of the GDP on defense.

At a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington in April, Trump sharply criticized an imbalance in payments in the alliance, while he praised Poland for its NATO commitment. “We appreciate it,” he said. The NATO states’ financial readiness is one of the issues sure to be addressed at the NATO summit in Brussels.

Poland also plans to shine a light on the entire region at the summit. A statement by the Bucharest Nine states last month stressed the importance of “further strengthening of the Alliance, most notably its deterrence and defense posture,” as the countries “remain fully committed to implementing all the initiatives developed as part of NATO’s forward presence on the Eastern flank.”

The group that has since 2015 been trying to heighten awareness within NATO of the threat posed by Russia includes Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

Polish people love America

Poland wouldn’t mind seeing Trump as the advocate of Eastern European interests in Brussels. It’s not just about a stronger NATO presence, but also about history and shared values. Many Poles see it as a given that the US should be responsible for their security, as the country suffered at the hands of neighboring Germany and Russia in the past and feels cheated by other European states.

The PiS government agrees wholeheartedly with Trump’s climate and migration policies, as well as criticism of the German-Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. And there are concrete economic interests, too: Poland buys US aircraft interceptor systems and liquefied natural gas, the latter in hopes to decrease its dependency on shipments from Russia.

There is a bit of uneasiness with regard to the fact that during the election campaign Trump called NATO obsolete, and the sure knowledge that the US president meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin right after the NATO summit. But it doesn’t shake Poland’s great sympathy for the US and the people’s belief that America represents safety and stability.

Trump slams ‘captive’ Germany at NATO summit — NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg taken by surprise

July 11, 2018

US President Donald Trump launched a blistering attack on Germany at the start of a tense NATO summit Wednesday, accusing Berlin of being “captive” to Russia and demanding it and other allies immediately step up defence spending.

The two-day meet in Brussels was already shaping up to be the alliance’s most difficult in years, with Europe and the US engaged in a bitter trade spat and Trump demanding that NATO allies “reimburse” Washington for the cost of defending the continent.

European allliance members were braced for criticism from Trump on defence spending, but his furious tirade at what should have been an amicable breakfast meeting appeared to take even NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg by surprise.

© AFP | President Donald Trump’s furious tirade against NATO appeared to take even the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) by surprise

“Germany is a captive of Russia because it is getting so much of its energy from Russia,” Trump said, taking particular aim at the proposed Nord Stream II pipeline.

“Everybody’s talking about it all over the world, they’re saying we’re paying you billions of dollars to protect you but you’re paying billions of dollars to Russia.”

Trump has long complained that European NATO members do not pay enough for their own defence, accusing them of freeloading on America and singling out Germany for particular criticism.

Europe’s biggest economy spends just 1.24 percent of GDP on defence, compared with 3.5 percent for the US, well below the NATO guideline of two percent.

“We’re protecting Germany, France and everybody… this has been going on for decades,” Trump said. “We’re not going to put up with it and it’s inappropriate.”

NATO officials and diplomats will try to promote an image of unity at the summit in the face of growing unease about the threat from Russia, but after Trump’s attack it may prove diffcult to paper over the cracks.

The mercurial tycoon said before leaving Washington that his meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday “may be the easiest” part of his European tour, which also includes a trip to Britain, where the government is in crisis over Brexit.

And he vowed not to be “taken advantage” of by the European Union, which he accuses of relying on the United States for defence while restricting US imports into the bloc, the world’s biggest market.

– ‘Appreciate your allies’ –

The meeting of 29 Western leaders has the potential to descend into another public bust-up following a divisive and bad-tempered summit of G7 nations in Canada last month.

Trump ramped up his rhetoric ahead of the talks, explicitly linking NATO with the transatlantic trade row.

“The European Union makes it impossible for our farmers and workers and companies to do business in Europe (U.S. has a $151 Billion trade deficit), and then they want us to happily defend them through NATO, and nicely pay for it. Just doesn?t work!” he tweeted as he arrived in Brussels late on Tuesday.

European officials have expressed hopes that NATO members can bridge their differences but EU President Donald Tusk launched his own salvo against Trump on Tuesday.

“Dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don’t have that many,” Tusk said, before reminding Trump that European troops had come to America’s aid following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

“Please remember this tomorrow when we meet at the NATO summit, but above all when you meet President Putin in Helsinki. It is always worth knowing who is your strategic friend and who is your strategic problem,” he said.

Trump will meet the Russian leader in the Finnish capital on July 16 for their first summit amid an ongoing investigation in the US into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia.

European diplomats fear a repeat of the G7, when Trump clashed with his Western allies, withdrawing from a joint statement and calling Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “dishonest and weak” before meeting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un at a summit afterwards and praising him as “very talented”.

There have been fears that Trump, keen to be seen to make a breakthrough with the Kremlin strongman, might make concessions that would weaken Western unity over issues such as Ukraine and Syria.

Trump set the stage for clashes at the summit by writing to around a dozen allies to berate them for lagging on a 2014 pledge to try to spend two percent of GDP on defence by 2024.

US ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison told reporters that Trump would also recommit to one of the founding articles of NATO — Article 5 — which holds that an attack on one member is an attack on them all.


Germany ‘totally controlled by Russia,’ Trump tells NATO chief

July 11, 2018

Germany is “totally controlled by Russia” due to its Nord Stream gas pipeline deal with Moscow, U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday ahead of a NATO summit in Brussels, calling the deal “inappropriate.”

“I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia when you’re supposed to be guarding against Russia and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia,” Trump told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

“If you look at it, Germany is a captive of Russia. They got rid of their coal plants, they got rid of their nuclear, they’re getting so much of their oil and gas from Russia. I think it is something NATO has to look at. It is very inappropriate,” he said.

Image may contain: 2 people, suit

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) and US President Donald J. Trump meet ahead of a NATO Summit, at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Belgium, July 11, 2018. (EPA Photo)

The U.S., meanwhile, is “paying a lot of money” to protect France, Germany and the rest of Europe, Trump added.

“Over the last year, about $40 billion more has been given by other countries to help NATO but that’s not nearly enough.”

“I think these countries have to step it up, not over a 10 year period, they have to step it up immediately. Germany is a rich country, they talk about increasing it a tiny bit by 2030. Well they could increase it immediately, tomorrow, and have no problem,” Trump said.

He added that it’s “not fair to the taxpayers of the United States and we’re going to make it fair.”

Trump complimented Stoltenberg, saying “he’s worked very hard on this problem.”

But Stoltenberg pushed back, stressing that NATO members have been able to work together despite their differences.

Trump was due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the summit later in the day and will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

Berlin has given political support to the building of a new, $11-billion pipeline to bring Russian gas across the Baltic Sea called Nord Stream 2, despite qualms among other EU states. Eastern European states and Ukraine fear the controversial project by the Russian gas giant Gazprom would cut them off from gas transit in the long run. Merkel insists the project is a private commercial venture and is not funded by German taxpayers.

NATO summit: Donald Trump blasts Germany over Russian gas, defense spending

July 11, 2018

“Dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don’t have that many,” said one senior European official on the eve of the NATO summit. Donald Trump has instead opened the meeting with a broadside against Berlin.

Belgium - US President Donald Tusk (Reuters/K. Lamarque)

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday lashed out at Germany over a gas pipeline deal with Russia, as NATO countries meet in Brussels for one of the most challenging summits in years.

“Germany is captive of Russia because it is getting so much of its energy from Russia,” Trump said, referring to Berlin’s Nord Stream 2 deal with Moscow. “They pay billions of dollars to Russia and we have to defend them against Russia.”

Berlin hopes the 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) Baltic Sea pipeline will provide direct delivery of more than 55 billion cubic meters (2 trillion cubic feet) of Russian natural gas starting in late 2019.

But the US and some eastern European countries have criticized the deal, fearing it could make Germany overly reliant on Russia at a time of heightened diplomatic tensions between Moscow and NATO.

Read more: US-German conflicts — what you need to know

‘Dear America, appreciate your allies’

Trump’s stinging criticism of Germany during a breakfast meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg came less than a day after he exchanged stern words with European Council President Donald Tusk over European defense spending.

Shortly before arriving in Brussels, Trump slammed European NATO members for failing to meet the alliance target of spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense.

“Many countries in NATO, which we are expected to defend, are not only short of their current commitment of 2 percent (which is low) but are also delinquent for many years in payments that have not been made. Will they reimburse the US?” he wrote on Twitter.

In Brussels, Tusk hit back at Trump for “criticizing Europe almost daily” and said the president should acknowledge that Europe is the US’ closest ally. “Dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don’t have that many,” he said.

Donald Tusk


Dear @realDonaldTrump. US doesn’t have and won’t have a better ally than EU. We spend on defense much more than Russia and as much as China. I hope you have no doubt this is an investment in our security, which cannot be said with confidence about Russian & Chinese spending 🙂

Read more: NATO in a nutshell: What you need to know

Tense talks ahead

The spat over defense spending is set to dominate the two-day meeting where leaders are also expected to sign off on a new rapid reaction force, increased funding for Afghan security forces and an invitation for Macedonia to join the nearly 70-year-old alliance.

Only eight members of the 29-strong bloc are expected to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense in 2018 — the US, Estonia, Greece, Britain, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. Germany’s defense spending is currently 1.24 percent of its GDP.

The meeting is also be taking place amid heightened tensions over US tariffs on European steel and aluminum imports and Trump’s withdrawal from a nuclear deal with Iran that many European countries are eager to save.

In a signal to European allies, the US Senate voted on Tuesday 97-2 in a non-binding resolution in support of NATO.

amp/rc (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)

EU’s Tusk hits back at Trump criticism ahead of Nato summit

July 10, 2018

EU Council president calls on America to ‘appreciate its allies’

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

Donald Tusk spoke ahead of a NATO summit © EPA

By Jim Brunsden

EU Council president Donald Tusk has refuted Donald Trump’s criticisms of European defence spending, urging the US president not to denigrate a contribution that has included the deaths of more than 800 European soldiers in Afghanistan.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of Nato leaders in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday, Mr Tusk said he wanted “to address President Trump directly”, as the US leader “for a long time now has been criticising Europe almost daily for, in his view, insufficient contributions to the common defence capabilities and for living off the US”.

“Europe was first to respond on a large scale when the US was attacked and called for solidarity after 9-11,” Mr Tusk said, referring to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “European soldiers have been fighting shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in Afghanistan. 870 brave European men and women sacrificed their lives, including 40 soldiers from my homeland, Poland.”

Mr Tusk was speaking alongside EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, ahead of a summit that is expected to be among the most tense in the history of the Atlantic alliance, with Mr Trump determined to pressure countries to spend more on their military capabilities.

Mr Tusk’s comments appeared to have been provoked by a tweet from Mr Trump as he prepared to travel to the summit, saying “the US is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them. Not fair to the US taxpayer.”

The EU Council president said that he wanted “to dispel the American president’s argument which says that the US alone protects Europe against our enemies and that the US is almost alone in this struggle.”

He said that Europe spends “many times more than Russia and as much as China [on defence].”

“I think you can have no doubt Mr President that this is an investment in common American and European defence and security, which cannot be said with confidence about Russian and about Chinese spending.”

Mr Tusk said that his comments were made both in view of the summit and of an upcoming meeting that Mr Trump will have with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It is always worth knowing who is your strategic friend and who is your strategic problem,” Mr Tusk said.

“First of all, dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don’t have that many. And dear Europe, spend more on Europe defence because everyone respects an ally that is well prepared and well equipped.”

NATO leaders fear Trump crisis at key summit

July 9, 2018

After the G7, Donald Trump could disrupt the NATO summit: “It is a shadow that hangs like the sword of Damocles over the summit.”

© AFP | NATO leaders face a major threat to the credibility of their military alliance at their summit this week– not from traditional foe Russia, but from the head of their most powerful member, US President Donald Trump

NATO leaders face a major threat to the credibility of their military alliance at their summit this week– not from traditional foe Russia, but from the head of their most powerful member, US President Donald Trump.

The gathering at NATO headquarters in Brussels, days before Trump meets his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, is shaping up to be the most difficult in years, analysts and officials told AFP.

Allies are braced for a barrage of invective from Trump for not spending enough on defence, and are apprehensive that his often sceptical tone on the alliance that has underpinned European security for 70 years might turn into outright hostility.

The 28 other NATO leaders fear a repeat of what happened at last month’s G7 summit, which ended in disarray when Trump abruptly rejected the closing statement.

“What Trump says will be decisive for the future of the alliance, but we do not know what he will say,” a diplomat from a NATO country said.

“It is a shadow that hangs like the sword of Damocles over the summit.”

Diplomats fear an acrimonious meeting could undermine efforts to show unity in the face of the growing threat on the alliance’s eastern flank — particularly with Trump set to meet Putin in Helsinki a few days later.

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Friday told Bloomberg TV that the summit must show unity, warning that “our opponents would be delighted if there is a division in NATO”.

Trump’s own ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison made a similar plea for harmony during a call with reporters Thursday.

– ‘Schmucks’ –

But the mercurial tycoon set the stage for a fractious meeting by writing to around a dozen NATO allies to berate them for lagging on a 2014 pledge to try to spend two percent of GDP on defence by 2024.

Currently only three European countries hit the two percent target, and while alliance officials are hopeful that four more will join the list by the July 11-12 summit, it is unlikely to satisfy Trump.

He accuses European NATO allies of freeloading, telling a rally this week that they had treated the US like “schmucks”.

Trump has even called into question NATO’s principle of collective defence — under which an attack on one member draws a response from all — for allies he feels are not paying their dues.

NATO officials all the way up to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg point to increased military investment by the US in Europe since Trump took office as evidence of Washington’s continuing commitment to the alliance.

But comments made by Trump have undercut this, most recently when he told other leaders at the G7 that NATO was “as bad as NAFTA”, the North American trade deal he has threatened to tear up.

Unwavering support for NATO has been a basic tenet of US foreign policy since the alliance was founded in 1949, but as Trump’s emerging trade tariff war with Europe shows, the president has no qualms about upending conventional thinking on major international issues.

– Putin ‘will enjoy’ summit –

Stoltenberg has stressed the alliance’s ability to overcome differences in the past, but Tomas Valasek, director of the Carnegie Europe and former Slovak ambassador to NATO, said the situation with Trump had already undermined its ability to deter would-be aggressors.

“We’ve had violent falling outs over Libya, Iraq in 2003, but it’s qualitatively different in that the biggest of the allies doesn’t just have disagreements with us, but actually seems willing to walk away,” Valasek said.

“The deterrence has already been weakened.”

Tobias Bunde, the head of policy and analysis at the Munich Security Conference, went even further telling AFP “whether NATO can survive his presidency might very well be up to debate”.

Bunde said NATO would “very likely never be defeated by outside forces” so long as it keeps to shared democratic values.

“But this prerequisite is now undermined from within — by a couple of illiberal governments in the Alliance, and now even by the US president.”

The tensions with Trump look all the more stark in the context of a summit that will take important decisions to boost NATO’s ability to defend itself from the threat it sees from Russia.

They will sign off on two new military commands — one to protect Atlantic shipping lanes and one to coordinate troop movements in Europe — as well as a plan to beef up NATO’s ability to mobilise forces quickly in the event of a crisis.

But any divisions will overshadow these concrete steps — and play well in Moscow.

Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Putin “will enjoy the NATO summit from the perspective that it embodies further division and fragmentation.”


NATO chief: Germany must increase defense spending

July 8, 2018

Germany spends 1.24 percent of its GDP on defense and has promised to increase that figure to 1.5 percent by 2024. But Jens Stoltenberg, the head of the NATO alliance, says Berlin needs to spend much more than that.

NATO-General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg (Reuters/E. Plevier)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said Germany should be more vigilant in increasing its defense spending, as 29 countries prepare to meet for a NATO summit on Wednesday.

Speaking to the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Stoltenberg (pictured) said he welcomed the German government’s pledge to increase the defense budget to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2024.

But he said he expected the country “to do even more” to meet the 2024 alliance target of 2 percent of GDP that Germany and other NATO countries agreed on during a 2014 summit. “I assume Germany will continue aiming to meet that goal,” he said.

Berlin, he added, “had a particularly important role” to play in defense spending because of the large size of its economy.

US President Donald Trump has regularly criticized Germany’s meager defense budget and accused Berlin of taking advantage of the US, which spends more than 3 percent of its GDP on defense and stations tens of thousands of troops in Europe.

The president’s tone has worried some German officials who fear the US could turn its back on the decades-old NATO alliance.

But Stoltenberg said the US was still devoted to the organization, citing commitments Trump personally voiced to him and a more than 40 percent increase in funding for US forces in Europe since the president assumed office in January 2017.

But he warned that the trans-Atlantic relationship underlying the alliance was not “a given.”

“The relationship must be reinvented every single day,” he said. “Politicians and everyone in Europe and North America have a role to play.”

amp/cmk (AFP, dpa, Reuters)


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U.S. President Donald Trump meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Washington

EU-US trade row looms over NATO defence meet

June 6, 2018

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday he was battling to stop the increasingly bitter row between Europe and the US spilling over into the alliance, warning of “serious disagreements” among member countries.

Image result for Jens Stoltenberg, photos

Jens Stoltenberg

European countries are at loggerheads with Washington over punishing new US tariffs on steel and aluminium as well as President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and Paris climate accord.

NATO defence ministers will meet in Brussels on Thursday to approve plans to beef up the alliance’s ability to mobilise forces quickly in the event of a crisis, as concern about the threat from Russia shows no sign of abating.

They will also sign off on two new command centres — one to protect Atlantic shipping lanes, based in Norfolk, Virginia, and another to coordinate troop movements around Europe, located in the southern German city of Ulm.

But the meeting, just five weeks out from a full summit of NATO leaders, looks set to be overshadowed by the spat between European countries and their longtime ally across the Atlantic.

“There are now serious disagreements with NATO allies on serious issues,” Stoltenberg told reporters, saying he was working hard to minimise the fallout for the alliance.

“As long as they’re not solved I have to be focused on how to reduce, limit the negative consequences for NATO.”

Stoltenberg insisted the “transatlantic bond” remained strong and pointed to the way NATO survived major differences among members over the Iraq war in 2003 and the Suez crisis of 1956.

“What we have seen again and again is that we have been able to unite around NATO’s core task, to protect and defend each other despite those differences,” he said.

The leaders of all 29 NATO members will meet in Brussels for the summit in July when all eyes will be on Trump, who has repeatedly attacked European countries for not pulling their weight in the alliance.

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has suffered the worst of Trump’s wrath for its failure to live up to a pledge by all NATO countries to try to spend at least two percent of gross domestic product on defence.