Stockholm (Ekonamik) – NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance, celebrates its 70th birthday this week in Washington D.C. Founded on April 4, 1949 with the signing of the Washington Treaty, the Alliance has been under strain since Donald Trump became U.S. President, but it has also been expanding finding a renewed sense of purpose in the perception of a growing threat from Russia in recent years.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg travelled to Washington this week, where he was received by a remarkably conciliatory U.S. President Tuesday and gave an address to a Joint Session of Congress Wednesday. Mr Trump said it was an “honour” to host Mr Stoltenberg and said the U.S. stands with the Alliance “100%”. “Tremendous progress has been made,” he said.
Mr Trump was referring to the progress that he feels has been made in getting NATO allies to spend more on defence. It was not always thus. Last July, the Alliance was under extreme duress at a NATO summit in Brussels when Mr Trump threatened the U.S. could “go it alone” unless NATO members, and particularly Germany, would rapidly increase their military spending.
But Mr Stoltenberg has managed to convince Mr Trump that NATO allies are in the process of spending an extra $100 billion. “In just the last two years, European Allies and Canada have spent an additional 41 billion dollars on defence,” Stoltenberg said in his address to congress. “By the end of next year, that figure will rise to one hundred billion. This is making NATO stronger.”
He also made a clear statement of NATO’s position on Russia. “I continue to call on Russia to return to compliance with the INF Treaty,” Mr Stoltenberg said, referring to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that Russia left last year, prompting Mr Trump to pull out the U.S. in turn. “But so far, Russia has taken no steps to do so. And time is running out.”
“NATO has no intention of deploying land-based nuclear missiles in Europe. But NATO will always take the necessary steps to provide credible and effective deterrence,” he added.
Mr Stoltenberg received a two-year extension to his term last week, meaning he will stay in his post until September 30, 2022. Allies have credited him with his deft navigation and handling of Mr Trump, who appears to like Mr Stoltenberg on a personal basis.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the 70th anniversary events would demonstrate a continuing U.S. dedication to NATO. “This administration will once again reaffirm our commitment to our NATO allies and we will again ask them, because it is important, to do their share, to make sure that NATO is around for the next 70 years,” he said in congressional testimony last week.
In some ways, NATO finds itself in a better position than it has in some time. NATO is expanding, with North Macedonia scheduled to become NATO’s 30th member later this year. And with U.S. commitment seemingly returning – more American troops are currently deployed to Europe than there have been in a long time – and a renewed sense of purpose bolstered by a rise in public support, the Alliance has done much to reverse its previously more precarious position over the past year.
But NATO also finds itself at something of a crossroads. There are still grave doubts about Mr Trump’s lasting commitment, and the focus on containing Russian aggression and NATO’s status as a more traditional military alliance means efforts have arguably been lacking elsewhere, such as terrorism, cyberthreats or China.
Tellingly, NATO’s heads of state are not gathering in Washington this week, but are instead expected to hold a commemoration in London by the end of the year. This both reflects the UK’s interest in even tighter integration into NATO following Brexit, but also concern with Mr Trump’s sheer unpredictability since the summit in Brussels last July.
Video: NATO Head Jens Stoltenberg Adresses Congress (Washington Post/YouTube)