NATO’s Big 75th Bash And The HUGE Elephant In The Room...

By Maria Angelino | Wednesday, 10 July 2024 04:30 PM
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Image Credit : NATO/Getty Images

As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commemorates its 75th anniversary with a summit in Washington, the alliance finds itself grappling with familiar adversaries and challenges.

Russia's ongoing aggression against Ukraine, its robust alliances with China, North Korea, and Iran, and the persistent issue of defense spending within the military coalition continue to be sources of concern.

According to CNBC, another unpredictable challenge looms on the horizon: the potential return of former President and Republican candidate Donald Trump to the U.S. administration. Trump's previous term (2017-2021) was marked by a strained relationship with NATO, as he criticized member states for failing to meet their 2014 commitment to allocate 2% of their national GDP to defense spending.

In his campaign for re-election, Trump unsettled NATO members in February by stating that he would withhold military protection from any member state that had not fulfilled its financial obligations to the alliance. He even suggested he would "encourage" adversaries "to do whatever they want" to such a nation.

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These remarks sparked outrage in the White House, which labeled them as "appalling and unhinged." Outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg responded by saying, "any suggestion that we are not there to protect and defend all Allies will undermine the security of all of us and put at risk our soldiers, our personnel who are on the front lines to protect the whole Alliance." He further emphasized the principle of collective defense, encapsulated in NATO's Article 5 clause, stating, "One for all, all for one applies for all Allies and is the heart of NATO."

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As the NATO summit unfolds in Washington, member states are demonstrating unity on the 75th anniversary of the defense pact. Leaders are keen to underscore their ongoing support for non-member Ukraine by announcing new military aid and a commitment to bolster the country's beleaguered air defenses.

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There is also an apparent desire among leaders to safeguard military aid for Ukraine against any potential impact of Trump's possible re-election, given his ambivalence towards ongoing aid for Ukraine. While incumbent President Joe Biden's support for Ukraine is unwavering, his re-election prospects are uncertain due to concerns about his fitness for office.

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Analysts at Eurasia Group anticipate NATO leaders to take measures to secure the coordination of the coalition's aid spending for Ukraine, to shield it from any potential future Trump administration. They noted, "In a key step to 'Trump-proof' Ukraine aid, NATO will take over substantial parts of the various coordinating efforts for Ukraine aid from the U.S."

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The uncertainty surrounding the U.S. presidential election and the prospect of Trump's return to the White House cast a "shadow" over the NATO summit. The analysts noted that "concerns about President Joe Biden's staying power will fuel early stage and informal discussions among several allies on two key issues: whether the West has a winning strategy for Ukraine and the question of nuclear deterrence in Europe in the face of a potentially diminished U.S. presence."

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Britain's new Prime Minister Keir Starmer, attending his first NATO summit, expressed hope that financial aid for Ukraine would be "locked in" at the meeting. He viewed the summit as an opportunity to solidify the alliance's financial commitment to Ukraine.

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Starmer has pledged to increase U.K. defense spending to 2.5% of GDP, but has not provided a timeline for this increase. NATO figures show that the U.K. spent 2.3% in 2023.

Donald Trump has previously claimed that he could resolve the Russia-Ukraine conflict "in one day," without elaborating on his strategy. NATO leaders, speaking to CNBC, suggested that such comments reflected Trump's penchant for "bold" rhetoric rather than a concrete plan of action.

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Poland's Foreign Minister Rados?aw Sikorski told CNBC, "We'll react to actions, not words," when asked about the potential impact of a Trump re-election on the transatlantic alliance's foreign policy focus.

Estonia's defense minister, Hanno Pevkur, emphasized that NATO allies do not interfere in each other's domestic politics and democratic processes. He stated, "The American people are the ones who are electing the U.S. president. So when, when the choice of American people is Donald Trump, then it's Donald Trump. Then all the countries in the world, including Estonia, including the NATO allies, have to talk with this administration who will be put in place."

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Trump's insistence on NATO members increasing their defense spending has been popular among his supporters. Even his critics acknowledge that several NATO allies, including larger members such as Germany, Canada, and France, have been slow to increase their expenditure. NATO estimates suggest that only 11 of its now-32 members met or exceeded the 2% of GDP threshold in 2023, with Poland leading this group.

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Balázs Orbán, political director for Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, told CNBC that Trump's pressure on European countries had been "very positive," as it had spurred NATO allies to invest more in their own defense. He described Trump as adopting a "pro-European" stance on defense, adding that Hungary had initiated its military modernization program before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, as a matter of "vital" national interest.

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Orbán stated, "We can tell our American friends, 'it's wonderful that you are here. If you are in trouble, we are there to defend you. If we are in trouble, you can come and please help us' but first and foremost, we are responsible for our own safety, and we have to do our job and what [former] President Trump is saying, and how he is putting pressure on European countries, I think it's very positive."

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