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.”