UK summit expected to launch “expert group” on future of “brain-dead” NATO

NATO is about to mark its 70th anniversary with a summit-level meeting in Watford (just north of London), England. This has spawned even more interesting headlines than usual, given President Trump’s somewhat hostile relationship with the transatlantic alliance.  See for example: Trump is entering another NATO summit all alone, with even his ally Boris Johnson telling him to back off and keep quiet (businessinsider.com, 29 November 2019).

In that article, author John Haltiwanger observes:

As leaders of NATO member states prepare for yet another summit in London next week, a familiar theme is emerging: how to keep President Donald Trump from disrupting proceedings.

Frankly, this would be hilariously funny if there were not nuclear weapons involved.

But Alliance members hope they have found a way to keep Trump happy and on his best behaviour. They have agreed to reduce the US government’s contribution to the alliance’s central budget of $2.5 billion per year.

This means that every other member, including Canada, will have to pick up the slack.

On the other hand, Canadian Press reports that Canada intends to hold the line on its current defence spending despite ongoing pressure from Trump. Given the 70% increase over 10 years announced in 2017 and the fact that our Department of National Defence is consistently unable to spend its annual allocation, this is an eminently sensible decision.

Expert Group to examine future of NATO

More surreal commentary on the upcoming summit can be found in the Guardian newspaper in its discussion of the proposal by German foreign minister Heiko Mass to establish an expert group to ponder NATO’s future:

The French defence minister, Florence Parly, said it was time not only to discuss whether Nato [sic] was brain-dead, but also to brainstorm its future.

Canadian commentary honed in on the alleged dangers for Canada of this “brewing battle” between Europe and the USA. In the words of defence analyst David Perry:

NATO represents an important “counterweight” to what would otherwise be an extremely lopsided Canada-U.S. defence relationship….because the alliance works on a consensus basis.

Robert Baines, president of the NATO Association of Canada, urged Canada to resume its archetypal role of “the peacemaker and bridgebuilder” between Washington and Europe.

But let’s face it. Any bridge Canada tries to build is likely to be blown up in short order by President Trump. Far more useful would be for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, now leading a minority government, to heed the unanimous call of our Standing Committee on National Defence, echoed as well by the European Leadership Network, to start working in earnest with likeminded NATO allies like Germany and the Netherlands to reduce nuclear tensions and get arms control talks underway again.

In the wise words of the European Leadership Network:

Only through cooperation on existential common interests can we build trust and stability. These shared interests demand a renewed commitment to collective nuclear diplomacy. Euro-Atlantic and global security depends on it.

Click here for the full statement and signatories.

In this regard, it is important to consider the recent formal Russian proposal to the United States that the two nuclear superpowers extend their New START arms control treaty by five years, though Moscow indicated it would also agree to a shorter extension if that is what the USA wanted.  But tragically, it seems all President Trump cares about is dismantling yet another important agreement negotiated by the Obama Administration.

For the full article, see: Russia urges U.S. to extend nuclear pact due to expire in 2021 ( Reuters, 27 Nov 2019). And click here for an expert American evaluation of the importance of this treaty for global stability.

CBC print coverage on 2 December, the day before the Summit, continues the familiar theme of recounting Trumpian demands ad nauseum and, even worse, of hyping the Russian threat. There no mention of their offer regarding New Start,  nor of the good progress being made in the Minsk Peace Process to resolve the Russia-Ukraine dispute.   – Canada’s former Amb for Disarmament, Peggy Mason

Even articles providing more analysis of the strains within NATO, while quoting French President Macron’s reference to the INF Treaty, still fail to interview anyone who might provide an arms control perspective.

Whither Canada?

We call on Canada to work hard to ensure that the mandate of the expert group studying NATO’s future includes measures that the collective alliance can take in support of nuclear arms control and reduced reliance on nuclear weapons.

Photo credit: NATO (Sec-Gen and PM Trudeau)

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