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At NATO, Trump clashes with major allies

U.S. President Donald Trump sowed division with American partners before departing a NATO summit and leaving it to other leaders to put on a united front.


U.S. President Donald Trump sowed division with traditional American partners before departing on Wednesday from a NATO summit and leaving it to other leaders to put on a united front, despite tensions over military spending, terrorism and Turkey.Trump canceled a scheduled news conference at the end of his trip to London for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 70th anniversary meeting, where its secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said 29 European and North American leaders discussed Russia and the future of arms control, declared space a new operating domain and for the first time talked about what China's rise means for international security.

“Our meeting has once again demonstrated that NATO remains the only place where Europe and North America discuss, decide and act every day together on strategic issues that concern our shared security," he told reporters after the two-day summit, in an apparent effort to downplay leaders' disagreements.

"Disagreements will always attract more attention than when we agree. And that’s, in a way, how our open, free, democratic societies work, so I don’t complain about that. That’s just a fact. Second, there has been disagreements in NATO as long as this alliance has existed," he said. "The strength of NATO is that we have always been able to overcome these differences and then unite around our core task: to protect and defend each other."

Stoltenberg said NATO's readiness initiative has made it capable of deploying 30 battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat ships within 30 days, and that the alliance formed a new action plan in the fight against terrorism and "declared space as the fifth operational domain" after land, air, sea and cyber.

It will step up security in telecommunication infrastructure, including 5G, or fifth-generation high-speed wireless technology, he said, and is committed to increasing defense spending by a cumulative US$400 billion between 2016 and 2024, which would represent "unprecedented progress."

NATO is responding to Russia’s deployment of intermediate-range, nuclear capable missiles in a defensive and coordinated way, Stoltenberg said, though the alliance seeks stronger and effective arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation.

In August, the United States and Russia let the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty lapse, ending a key plank of Cold War-era nuclear arms control and prompting fears of a new global arms race amid rising geopolitical tensions.

Trading blame, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to set aside their differences over the INF Treaty, or to convene expert-level negotiations to try to resolve the compliance issues that Trump cited in his decision to withdraw the United States from the treaty.

Now, experts have been urging the United States and Russia to renew a decade-long, more comprehensive nuclear pact known as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, that took effect in 2011. It is due to expire in 2021, and without it and the INF Treaty, the world’s two biggest nuclear arsenals would have no legally binding limits for the first time in almost a half-century.

China's rise as an economic and military world power also commanded NATO's attention. "For the first time, we addressed the rise of China — both the challenges and the opportunities it poses. And the implications for our security," Stoltenberg said. "Leaders agreed we need to address this together as an alliance. And that we must find ways to encourage China to participate in arms control arrangements."

More for defense

Trump's policies of seeking to tear down and fundamentally realign global politics and economics have strained relations with NATO allies. He called NATO “obsolete” during his campaign for the White House, even suggesting America might not defend the alliance’s members if they were attacked, and last year began hammering away at traditional U.S. allies to pressure them into spending more on defense.Trump canceled his Wednesday news conference hours after a video emerged of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau caught on a hot mic mocking the American president. Trudeau was heard telling French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte that Trump “was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top.”

Trump was never mentioned by name in the video, a viral hit on social media, but the context of the conversation was clear. “You just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” Trudeau said at one point, referring to Trump's self-dealing decision to award — and later to rescind — the United States' hosting of next year's Group of Seven, or G-7, summit to his own private golf resort in Florida.

Trump announced on Tuesday that the summit will now be hosted at the Camp David presidential retreat in rural Maryland, but the headlines on that day were overtaken by Trump's other statements that Macron was “very, very nasty” and that Trudeau's government was "slightly delinquent" in military spending.

The trip to London began as a welcome diversion for Trump and well-timed opportunity for him to appear as a leader on the world stage. In Washington, he faced the spectacle of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee's public impeachment hearings on the mounting evidence from administration officials, diplomats and scholars that the Republican president pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.

The committee in the Democratic-led House was armed with a fresh report from the House Intelligence Committee that concluded Trump had “sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security."

Trump's attacks on Macron were a response to the French leader's comments last month to Economist magazine that NATO appears to have suffered "brain death" due to an inability to cooperate and coordinate among its 29 member nations from Europe and North America.

“You just can’t go around making statements like that about NATO,” Trump said, flanked by Stoltenberg during a one-0n-one meeting between them. “I would say that nobody needs NATO more than France,” Trump said, apparently ignoring his own criticisms of NATO. “That’s why I think when France makes a statement like they made about NATO, that’s a very dangerous statement for them to make.”

Macron also called into question whether NATO will remain committed to the 1948 North Atlantic Treaty's bedrock Article 5 — which defines an attack against one as an attack against all — in an era of rising populist nationalism, particularly white nationalism, fueled by Trump's "America First" policies.Stoltenberg maintained after the summit ended on Wednesday that all 29 leaders had made it clear that NATO's "commitment to Article 5, the collective defense clause of our alliance, is ironclad."

The French leader also called out Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over his threat to oppose NATO’s plan to defend Baltic nations if the alliance did not take into account the groups that Turkey views as terrorists. The White House announced on Wednesday that Trump met with Erdoğan on the sidelines of the NATO summit, where it is traditional for leaders to schedule rounds of bilateral talks.Trump had seemed to soften his position towards Macron during their one-on-one meeting on Tuesday. He said that he and Macron had a “minor dispute” over France's plan to impose stiffer taxes on U.S. high-tech companies and Trump's plan to retaliate with major tariffs on French goods.

“We would rather not do that,” Trump said. “But it’s either going to work out, or we’ll work out some mutually beneficial tax. And the tax will be substantial, and I’m not sure it will come to that, but it might.”

Macron, for his part, made clear he stood by his comments to the Economist. “I know that my statements created some reactions,” Macron said. “When we speak about NATO, it’s not just about money. We have to be respectful with our soldiers. The first burden we share, the first cost we pay, is our soldiers’ lives.”

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II welcomed Stoltenberg and other NATO leaders to London at a Buckingham Palace reception on Tuesday night, ahead of Wednesday’s three-hour meeting among NATO leaders.Trump has suggested that NATO allies should spend as much as 4% of their GDP on defense, which would double the current target of 2% by 2024. He claimed Germany is compromised by its reliance on Russian energy due to a huge undersea pipeline project on the northeastern Baltic coast that would double the amount of gas that Russia would be able to directly deliver to German consumers.

The United States and some European Union members opposed the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project on grounds it would strengthen Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leverage in Europe. The Trump administration reportedly is considering pulling out U.S. forces from Germany.

Ahead of his one-on-one meeting on Tuesday with Trudeau, Trump said the two leaders would discuss what to do about "delinquent" countries such as Canada that should contribute more to military spending. NATO figures show the United States contributes 3.1% of its GDP to defense spending, compared with Canada's roughly 1.3% of GDP.

“I think it’s very unfair when a country doesn’t pay, so most likely I’d do something with respect to trade,” Trump said. Asked to clarify his views on Canada's share of the alliance's defense spending, Trump said it was "slightly delinquent, but they'll be OK. I have confidence."