NATO summit confronts problems of future unity

NATO summit was to concentrate on emerging threats - cyber, militarisation of space, China as a rising military power - but fears are that discussion will be dominated by defence funding.

The NATO flag
For all the broad smiles and warm handshakes among Western leaders as they gathered in London on Tuesday for a two-day summit to mark Nato's 70th anniversary, there were few signs the gathering would be a very happy birthday celebration.

NATO: continued infighting and divisions within the alliance

Divisions within the transatlantic alliance are at an all-time high. President Donald Trump - never a Nato enthusiast - is demanding European nations pay a greater share of the defence bill, while President Emmanuel Macron infuriated President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Turkey's recent incursion into northern Syria, by suggesting Nato's failure to react effectively suggested the organisation was "brain dead".European leaders have also been unhappy over Turkey's refusal to back a Nato defence plan for the Baltics and Poland, and over President Erdogan's decision to purchase a Russian air defence missile system.Meanwhile, Mr Trump's decision to abruptly pull US troops out of northern Syria has angered many in Europe for being a betrayal of Kurdish allies and giving the green light to Russia and the Assad regime for increased military action in the area."This summit is likely going to be characterised by an unusual level of infighting within the alliance," says Samantha Vinograd, CNN national security analyst and former member of President Barack Obama's National Security Council."Crisis management is one of Nato's core operational capabilities, but there are internal crises brewing between Nato members while they consult on how to manage external threats like Russia, China and terrorism. And Trump, who has been critical of NATO in the past, continues to be a wild card in Nato meetings."

UK hosts pre-summit meeting with France, Germany and Turkey

Before the summit formally got underway on Tuesday evening at Buckingham Palace (with substantive talks due in Watford on Wednesday), Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued an appeal for unity as he hosted a pre-summit meeting with Messrs Macron and Erdogan, along with Chancellor Angela Merkel, at Downing Street.
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"The PM's position is that Nato is the most enduring and successful alliance in military history and that it continues to adapt to the evolving threats that we face," said a Downing Street spokesman ahead of the meeting."It is the cornerstone of Euro-Atlantic security and it helps to keep a billion people safe. The PM will emphasise that all members must be united behind shared priorities so Nato can adapt to the challenges ahead."

Will all NATO countries meet target of 2% GDP on defence spending?

And Mr Trump might take a crumb of comfort when fellow leaders approve changes to the alliance's common funding budget, which finances salaries and operations at Nato headquarters in Brussels and other administrative expenses.The rebalancing reduces the US contribution to the fund from 22% to 16%, with other Nato members - except France, which has opted out - increasing their contributions based on gross national income. Germany has said it will cover the French opt-out.However, common funding amounts to just 0.3% of Nato nations' total defence spending and Mr Trump wants to see European countries substantially increase their spending so they meet the target of 2% of GDP on defence.Aside from the US, only the UK, Greece, Estonia, Romania, Poland and Latvia have met or surpassed the target. The US spends a high of 3.4% of its GDP - at the other end of the table, Luxembourg spends only 0.55%.Given the slow progress made by members on spending, Mr Trump is expected to be heavily critical again at the summit. He is particularly annoyed with Germany, which has a budget surplus but spends only an estimated 1.36% of its GDP on defence spending.“We’re the schmucks that are paying for the whole thing,” Mr Trump said at a rally recently. “Frankly, many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back, where they’re delinquent, as far as I’m concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them.” He singled out Germany as “the number one” culprit.This will be the discussion likely to dominate the closed-door sessions of the summit, which, in theory, is meant to concentrate on emerging threats, such as cyber, the militarisation of space and the rising military power of China.Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of Nato, says the summit will give members the opportunity to address “current and emerging security challenges and how NATO continues to invest and adapt to ensure it will remain a pillar of stability in the years ahead".First of all, though, the organisation has to settle the question of internal unity after 70 years of existence.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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