Will Nato summit descend into chaos?

Written by Martin Banks on 5 July 2018 in News

Former UK Europe Minister Denis MacShane says the upcoming Nato summit in Brussels with US President Donald Trump could descend into a “messy and perhaps personalised confrontation.”

Donald Trump | Photo credit: Press Association

Some had hoped that the summit on 11 and 12 July could be used to heal rifts between the US and Europe during the G7 in Canada gathering last month.

There were also hopes among western European nations that the issue of how much each Nato member contributes to the alliance - what is known as the two per cent issue - would not dominate the two-day gathering.

But Trump is expected to use the event to again condemn those alliance members, notably Germany, that still fail to ensure that two per cent of their GDP is spent on defence.


Speaking to this website ahead of the summit, MacShane, a former UK cabinet minister, said, “Trump’s erratic, irascible, personalised approach to world affairs will dominate the Nato summit as so much else. 

“Will he threaten to leave or downscale US support for Nato? He seems more interested in his photo opportunities with Putin and Queen Elizabeth than family photos with Merkel, May and other Nato leaders like Justin Trudeau or assorted European leaders. Clearly if Trump is going to a live in with Putin Nato won’t agree a strong line on Russia.”

MacShane added, “The new populist anti-immigrant government in Rome wants to renew trade with Russia while the populist anti-immigrant government in Warsaw has offered the US $2bn to build a military base in eastern Poland as a direct challenge to the Kremlin so which side will Trump come down on?”

When asked what he thinks will emerge from the summit, he said, “You can expect lectures on lack of defence spending by key European Nato members like Germany possibly linked to trade rows.”

Another bone of contention for Trump, he believes, could be the new European security initiative launched by French President Emmanuel Macron which MacShane says “is a potential rival to Nato and does not involve the US.”

He added, “This will be the first outing since his re-election for the Turkish strongman President Erdoğan. He seems determined to lead Turkey away from Europe and supports Islamist social and cultural policies. Is Turkey any more a reliable Nato partner with its designs on Greek islands? 

“In short there is potential for a messy and perhaps personalised and confrontational summit. Trump is tearing up the rule book of international relations in place since the 1940s but Europe is too disunited and obsessed with internal bickering and posturing to offer a credible alternative.” 

UK Tory MEP Geoffrey Van Orden, a former senior member of the British Army, said that the “foremost strategic priority for European members of the Nato alliance is to ensure the continued unambiguous commitment of the United States to Europe’s security.

“The foremost strategic priority for European members of the Nato alliance is to ensure the continued unambiguous commitment of the United States to Europe’s security. This will be achieved by tangible evidence that European allies are serious about enhancing their defence capabilities to meet a wide range of threats. 

“Their forces need to be interoperable with North American allies, and their governments willing to confront both regional and global challenges as good partners of the US.  And measures to enable rapid forward movement of forces across the continent, particularly transatlantic reinforcements, needs to be finalised. 

“The creation of ‘autonomous’ EU defence structures, the cold shoulder to the UK (Europe’s most capable military power), and the suggestion of exclusion of non-EU defence companies from a closed EU defence market, all send the wrong signal.

“Meanwhile, far from abandoning Europe, as the proponents of separate EU structures seek to emphasise, the United States has been increasing its military presence in Europe in light of the increased Russian threat. 

“For example, it has increased its European deterrence initiative budget by 40 per cent for 2018, to $4.8bn. This increase alone is more than the total defence spending of 10 EU member states, which highlights the continued commitment of the United States to European security. Nothing must be done to undermine this.

“It is incumbent on European allies to revamp their military capabilities, put every effort into meeting the commitment to spend a minimum of two per cent of GDP on defence, and focus on the revitalisation of the Nato alliance rather than EU projects which are more about EU political integration than military resolve.”

Hopes that MacShane’s pessimistic prediction for the summit will fail to materialise have been damaged by a letter Trump reportedly sent to his Nato allies which clearly states he will be mostly concerned with who does and does not spend two per cent of GDP on defence.

The letter sent to Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, dated 19 June, was reproduced by Norwegian newspaper VG. In it, Trump says Norway is “the only Nato ally sharing a border with Russia that lacks a credible plan to spend two per cent of its gross domestic product on defence.”

“I understand domestic political pressures, as I have expended considerable political capital to increase our own defence spending,” the letter reads. 

“It will, however, become increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries continue to fail to meet our shared collective security commitments,” the letter states.

Paul Taylor, a defence specialist at Brussels based think tank Friends of Europe, said that “after watching the G7 train wreck aghast, senior officials at Nato headquarters are quaking in their boots at the prospect of hosting a summit of the western defence alliance featuring a raging Donald Trump in Brussels.”

Taylor said, “Far from showcasing transatlantic unity and resolve, they fear the gathering of leaders of the 29-nation alliance could turn into round two of the rumble in Quebec with the US President on the rampage against the Europeans and Canadians over their allegedly unfair trade surpluses and puny military spending, leaving Nato in tatters.”

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is expected to urge allies to focus on the “three Cs” - cash, capabilities and commitments. 

A source at the German Marshall Fund of the United States said the summit is “an opportunity to seize and to set an innovative agenda.

“To complete its deterrence toolbox, Nato must look at issues such as missile defence, conventional forces, and the development of more cybersecurity. The challenge will be to push an innovative discussion addressing the urgent need to develop on core Nato force multipliers, where the alliance is still facing gaps.”

The Nato summit comes after MEPs, on 13 June, adopted a wide-ranging report that welcomed the “reaffirmation” of US commitment to Nato and European security. They also agreed on “the need for the EU to ensure a close security and defence relationship with the United Kingdom after Brexit”.

The report welcomed the “continuing trend” of increased defence spending among Nato allies and encouraged all members to “make substantive progress” towards the two per cent target, with 20 per cent of such spending going on major new equipment.

The recent huge increase in EU defence spending, and the possible creation of a ‘European army’, has led to fears of a duplication of roles with Nato and the report says the actions of both should be “complementary.”

The resolution also says the EU and Nato “should do more together to bolster the resilience, defence and security” of the neighbours and partners of both organisations.

It warns that, after Brexit, 80 per cent of Nato’s defence spending will be “non-EU” and three out of four battalions in the east will be led by non-EU countries.


About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine


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