NATO prepares a 70th birthday party, with discreet celebrations

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BRUSSELS – For an anniversary party, the guests are unusually anxious.

NATO leaders will travel to London this week to commemorate the 70th birthday of the alliance, but they will do so in a carefully crafted and shortened meeting, not in a full-fledged summit meeting.

The discreet celebration seems to have the intention of avoiding more awkward comments from President Trump, who almost destroyed the last summit meeting in Brussels in July 2018, reflecting on resigning from the alliance and retiring amid a statement by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany .

Normally, the 70th anniversary, like the 50th, would have been celebrated in Washington, where the alliance’s founding treaty was signed, with three days of pomp, substance and a dinner at the White House. But given Trump’s unpredictability and his doubts about the alliance, NATO countries decided to hold only a meeting of foreign ministers in Washington on the royal anniversary, in April.

Despite some doubts, even from Berlin, this session in London was added because Britain wanted to show that it still mattered in transatlantic security, particularly with its upcoming withdrawal from the European Union, he said. Jonathan Eyal, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute, a defense research institution based in London.

According to Mr. EyalJens Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO, also thought that some event should take place in Europe to celebrate the occasion.

“There were serious doubts,” said Eyal. “After all, at the venerable age of 70, a birthday party is usually enough.”

Malcolm Chalmers, a colleague of Mr. Eyal in the institute, said: “This is not a summit, and the amount of time for a substantial conversation between the leaders is very short, and deliberately.” The meeting, he said, has become, “To a large extent, a harm limitation exercise: there is no intention to make important decisions.”

R. Nicholas Burns, a former US ambassador to NATO, said that originally no one had expected a British election and that “hide it in London,quot;, far from Washington ” help.“

Mr. Trump “has flown all the NATO summits he has been to,” Burns added, noting that NATO officials and diplomats were cautious about what the US president would say, both at the meeting of a tomorrow about December 4th and in his subsequent press conference.

It is also said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Great Britain is anxious. He is in the last two weeks of a general election campaign, and while Trump praises him in a fulminating way, the American president is also very unpopular in Britain. Any interference perceived by Trump in the British campaign can harm Johnson.

But the NATO meeting has become even more remarkable due to another open leader, President Emmanuel Macron of France, who recently stated that “what we are currently experiencing is NATO brain death. ” Mr. Macron also questioned, as Mr. Trump did before him, if the alliance’s commitment to collective security, Article 5 in its 1949 founding treaty, remains valid, in part because Mr. Trump , as leader of the alliance, he has questioned it.

Macron was also angry over Trump’s parallel dealings with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, another NATO leader, for pulling US troops out of Syria. French troops are also in Syria fighting alongside the Americans to fight the Islamic State.

Macron’s comments were harshly criticized by Merkel and other NATO leaders for undermining the credibility of the alliance, but has insisted that NATO is spending too much time discussing the distribution of cargo and military spending levels, one of Trump’s obsessions. and very little time discussing strategies and adaptability in a changing world and battlefield.

So, Mr. Macron has made this meeting potentially more substantive, Mr. Eyal said.

“If there was any merit in Macron’s interview, which was disastrous for his own interests, it was throwing a grenade and restarting an old debate: Should European security be done in parallel with the United States or instead of the United States, as replacement? “he said. “That is the real dividing line.”

Ivo Daalder, another former US ambassador to NATO, said that, beyond Trump review, the alliance could point to further deterrence after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. NATO members have increased their military expenses by about $ 130 billion since 2016, according to official figures (although only nine of the 29 members are spending 2 percent of gross domestic product in the army, the goal of the alliance by 2024).

Trump has also deployed more US troops and teams in Europe along with NATO allies in neighboring Russian countries, such as Poland and the Baltic nations.

“Deterrence is strong and getting stronger,” said Daalder. But he and Chalmers, of the Royal United Services Institute, said spending was not the only deterrent. As Mr. Chalmers said, “Ultimately, the credibility of NATO depends on the perceptions of the political credibility of its leaders, not the military hardware.”

“That is the legitimate question that Macron is asking,” Chalmers added, even if the doubts expressed publicly by the French president damage the deterrence that worries him.

Mr. Daalder, now president of the Chicago Global Affairs Council, he sees in Mr. Macron the resurgence of a Gaullist perspective, “where France is seeking the mantle of European leadership by putting Europe against the United States.” But that can be counterproductive, he added, because he could end up “dividing the Europeans, who are already divided over Brexit and China & # 39; & # 39 ;.

Combined with concerns about leadership in the United States, both before Mr. Trump and after him, Mr. Daalder said: “France is using these doubts as a way of trying to establish a strong European defense identity and sovereignty.”

But that fuels American doubts about European aspirations for “strategic autonomy,” Daalder added, “and if Europeans do it against NATO instead of collaborating with it, because & # 39; we can’t trust the United States & # 39 ;, then you are back “Until the 1960s, when France withdrew its troops from NATO.

Mr. Macron has defended his comments, and some analysts say they believe this meeting can authorize an extensive study of NATO’s future strategy, updating the last one in 2010. Taking that out would eliminate the whole issue in the future, certainly beyond from United States. presidential election in November 2020.

A brief final statement after this week’s meeting is expected to mention the usual spending targets, NATO operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the need to work on new disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and some line of concern About China It is also likely to repeat the usual statements about Russia: it focuses on deterrence, but emphasizes the readiness for dialogue.

And as a gesture for Trump, NATO agreed to cut the US portion of the $ 2.5 billion annual budget of the alliance, starting in 2021, so that Germany and the United States Both will pay around 16 percent. However, France opposed what is an essentially symbolic gesture for Trump, and will be the only ally who will not pay a little more.

Jean-Claude Juncker, who has just quit his job as president of the European Commission, spoke to many in Europe when he wrote in Politico recently that “Europe must remain a strong pillar of NATO, which is not so much,quot; brain death “as in a light sleep from which you can easily wake up & # 39; & # 39 ;.

The challenge for Mr. Stoltenberg is delicate, said Daalder. He must try to “overcome this three-hour meeting so that Trump can retire and say,” I won “; to keep Trump happy so that the alliance does not crumble.”

But you also need to keep Mr. Macron happy too.

Aurelien Breeden contributed reports from Paris.