London meeting to test NATO unity

BRUSSELS, The 29 Heads of State and Government of NATO will hold a “Leaders Meeting” in London today (Tuesday), to mark the 70th anniversary of the military Alliance.

The London gathering is only a “meeting” and not a regular NATO summit, with a working session lasting only a few hours thus leaving little time to discuss extensively the issues on the agenda.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a press conference in Brussels last week that leaders will discuss improvements to the NATO forces, recognizing space as an operational domain, updating action plan against terrorism, fair burden sharing, as well as threats by China and Russia.

The meeting will be preceded by the traditional reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday evening.

Analysts note that the London meeting is overshadowed by political disputes after French President Emmanuel Macron recently disparaged NATO as “brain dead” like US President once did by saying that the Alliance is “obsolete.” Moreover, the Turkish military operation in northeast Syria, the rapprochement between NATO ally Turkey and Russia, issues like climate change and the approach to Iran are fueling internal divisions within NATO.

Stoltenberg admits that “sometimes we disagree,” but underlines that “the strength of NATO is that we have always been able to overcome our disagreements.” For Didier Audenaert, a Belgian military expert and analyst on NATO affairs, “the Turkish interests in the Middle East do not coincide with those of the other European nations and that the Turkish operation may create political uncertainty for the Alliance.” Writing for the Brussels-based think tank Egmont Institute, he noted that Macron’s desire to engage with Russia in negotiations on a “new European security order may cast a shadow over the London talks.” The Europeans see “no reason to normalize their relations with Russia and are frightened for the consequences of such a new European security order for the EU,” warned Audenaert who served both in the Belgian army and NATO.

Trump has been repeating his calls to the European Allies that they have to spend more on defense and reminding them that the US has been paying around 22 percent of NATO’s EUR-2.1-billion (USD 3.2 billion) budget.

In an apparent move to appease Trump, NATO chief Stoltenberg released last week new figures saying European Allies and Canada will have invested in defense well over USD 100 billion more since 2016.

He claimed that the accumulated increase in defense spending by European members of NATO and Canada by the end of 2024 will be USD 400 billion.

Some European commentators are calling on NATO to define and chart its future goals clearly.

“The truth is that 70 years after its founding, there are two NATOs. One consists of the well-oiled military machine” and the other “the political side of the alliance, the deeply dysfunctional side where US President Donald Trump, who once described NATO as ‘obsolete,’ is setting the tone,” said four German analysts in a join article published by the German Spiegel online.

The Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia opines that on the 70th NATO anniversary “serious consideration should be put into giving it a new direction.

“This is not a cozy get-together to blow out the 70 candles on a cake. The whole world is already trying to influence the agenda and decisions of this probably historic summit,” it commented.

“Against whom must NATO defend itself in 2019? Who is the common enemy? Is there still room in the club for one of the key member states, Turkey, after the attack on Northern Syria?” It questioned.

The Belgian expert Audenaert advises Stoltenberg to “maneuver cleverly to stay away from the many political pitfalls.

“NATO is doing well as an organization and is making steady progress, increasing its military efficiency and carrying out its core tasks effectively,” he noted.

“However, the foundation of the Alliance, the transatlantic link, transatlantic trust, is in a questionable state because of the many disputes between Allies and especially because this time the American attitude fuels internal division,” he said.

For Sven Biscop, a senior analyst at Egmont Institute, the future of NATO depends on its common stance with the EU on world affairs.

“Whether or not NATO will continue to exist into the next decades depends on whether the United States and the EU continue to share a broad outlook on the world,” he said. “An EU-US strategic dialogue is therefore crucial,” he stressed.

Source: Kuwait News Agency