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Atlantic Voices - NATO's Special Meeting


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On May 25, 2017, NATO leaders gathered at the new headquarters in Brussels for a Special Meeting. This long anticipated meeting, not least because it was President Trump’s first NATO meeting, was supposed to provide clarity as to whether the Allies see eye to eye on a range of issues that have been troubling the Alliance recently. The outcomes seem to be mixed.

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Atlantic Voices - NATO's Special Meeting

  1. 1. YOUTH ATLANTIC TREATY ASSOCIATION (Supported by ATA) Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 1 - Marianne Copier On May 25, 2017, NATO leaders gathered at the new headquarters in Brussels for a Special Meeting. This long anticipated meeting, not least because it was President Trump’s first NATO meeting, was supposed to provide clarity as to whether the Allies see eye to eye on a range of issues that have been troubling the Alliance recently. The outcomes seem to be mixed. The first article discusses the lack of a common narrative within the Alliance, which makes a common approach to external challenges very difficult. The second article is a long-read that provides an overview of the progress that NATO has made since the Wales Summit in 2014. NATO should be aware, though, that this progress is at risk of being undone, due to internal divisions that arise along three lines: bilateral vs. multilateral; EU vs. NATO; and trans- Atlanticists vs. continentalists. NATO’s Special Meeting Volume 7- Issue 06 June 2017 Contents: NATO’s Special Meeting: In Search of a Common Narative Mr. M. Bahadırhan Dinçaslan argues that the most important task NATO is facing today is to find a common narrative that allows the Allies to unite as one front, or else its adversaries will thrive in the power vacuum resulting from the Alliance’s internal struggles. From Wales to Brussels: Analyzing NATO in the Trump Era Ms. Michelle Shevin-Coetzee argues that NATO’s progress since the 2014 Wales Summit and the 2016 Warsaw Summit is at risk not just from the many external forces that will continue to challenge the Alliance, but also from within. NATO’s heads of state and government taking an official group portret in the Agora of the new NATO Headquarters during the Special Meeting on May 25, 2017 (Photo: NATO)
  2. 2. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 2 Special Meeting, President Trump once again scolded the Allies for not paying their part, even suggesting they owed the U.S. large sums of money from past years. The debate about burden sharing within the Alliance is not new, of course. Many, if not all, of President Trump’s predecessors have also called upon the Allies to increase their monetary contribution to NATO. In fact, the 2% pledge was made during the Wales Summit in 2014, long before Donald Trump even became a candidate for the position of U.S. President. However, no U.S. President before him has been so reluctant to affirm his commitment to Article 5, making the Allies nervous. President Trump did not confirm this commitment while in Brussels, instead waiting almost two weeks to finally do so, while at the same time reiterating that the other members need to start paying more on defense. It seems that as long as progress on meeting the 2% pledge is evident, the other Allies will be able to preserve the U.S. commitment to NATO. Although Canada and the European member states have increased their defense spending by $46 billion since 2014, most do not nearly meet the 2% benchmark yet. As a solution – for now – the Allies agreed in Brussels to develop annual national plans on how they plan to meet the 2% goal by 2014, covering cash, capabilities and contributions. Although this topic is sure to stir further debate in the future, this more technical issue is not NATO’s biggest challenge momentarily. The Lack of a Common Narrative Constituting a larger threat to NATO are the differing perceptions on the threats from the East and NATO’s Special Meeting: In Search of a Common Narrative By M. Bahadırhan Dinçaslan O n May 25, NATO’s Special Meeting took place at its new headquarters in Brussels. This event was highly anticipated, mostly because it was the first NATO gathering at the level of heads of state and government in which President Trump would participate, and everyone wanted to know whether he would stick to his previous criticisms on NATO, or if he would come to see the Alliance in a more positive light. It seems the results are mixed. Now that considerable time has passed since the Special Meeting, it is time to take stock of its echoes. Where does NATO stand at the moment? Facing a plethora of threats and challenges, the Alliance is in need of a unified response on all fronts. Unfortunately, the meeting demonstrated that agreement on the required course of action is lacking on some key issues. Although there were many more items on the agenda, there were three main issues on everyone’s mind, not least because these were the three issues on which President Trump criticizes NATO: defense spending, as most European member states do not meet the 2% target; NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism, and against ISIS in particular; and the relationship between NATO and Russia, following irredentist actions taken in Georgia and Crimea, as well as taking opposing stances on Syria. Increased Defense Spending On April 27, 2016, Donald Trump stated during a campaign speech: ‘The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense, and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice.’ In his speech at the
  3. 3. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 3 the South and how to deal with them. Although it is not entirely clear where the U.S.-Russia relationship stands at the moment, it is clear that President Trump does not share the concerns of some of his European counterparts when it comes to the threat Russia poses. His priority obviously lies with counterterrorism, and the fight against ISIS in particular. In Trump’s eyes, NATO is not active enough in this regard, despite the fact that all the Allies are part of the U.S.-led Coalition against ISIS. During the Special Meeting, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that NATO too would formally join this Coalition. Stoltenberg stated: ‘Our AWACS surveillance planes will help improve airspace management for the Coalition. And several Allies have committed air-to-air refueling capabilities for those AWACS. So, we will share more information, there will be more flying hours and we will also have air-to-air refue- ling.’ However, he also specifically mentioned that this does not mean that NATO will engage in combat operations. This demonstrates the diverging views within NATO on how to fight terrorism, despite the Secretary general adding that ’[this] will send a strong message of unity and NATO’s commitment to the fight against terrorism’’. President Trump has vowed to crush ISIS, favoring a military approach. Once ISIS is wiped off the face of the Earth, terrorism will bleed to death, he seems to think. Most other NATO members think differently. Not only can it be argued that the so-called “War on Terror” has been counterproductive, making jihadism more rather than less attractive to those susceptible to radicalization, European countries are also more likely to be affected by the direct consequences of the fighting, as large flows of refugees search their way for Europe and Europe has not found a common approach to dealing with this yet. One must also not forget that the European member states have faced several terrorist attacks since joining the Coalition against ISIS. The fear is that this number will only increase once ISIS fighters flee the Caliphate and make their way (back) to Europe, either as returning foreign fighters, or even posing as refugees. This phenomenon is not only viewed conspicuously by NATO, but also by the EU. Close cooperation between the two entities on this issue is of the essence, but the relationship has not benefited from President Trump’s “America First” attitude or his Euro- scepticism – or actually just outright criticism of the EU, even cheering for a Brexit. To facilitate a more effective counterterrorism strategy, NATO announ- ced in June 2016 that it would create a new post for an Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence. This move was immediately claimed as a victory by Donald Trump, who had called NATO ‘obsolete’ for not doing more on fighting terrorism, despite this post having been in the making for quite some time already, as confirmed by a NATO official. The task of the Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence would be to coordinate intelligence assessments, not only on terrorist organizations, but also on Russia for example. President Trump gives a speech at the dedication of the 9/11 and Article 5 Memorial during the NATO Special Meeting on May 25, 2017. (Photo: NATO)
  4. 4. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 4 However, for this to happen, intelligence sharing is essential. Recently, in two separate events, the U.S.’ closest partners, Israel and the United Kingdom, saw classified information they had shared with the U.S. leaked. This begs the question how trustworthy this U.S. Administration is when it comes to keeping classified information secret, a crucial factor when trying to stimulate intelligence sharing among the Allies. Moreover, allegations over ties between Trump and Putin are persistent, and the case just mentioned involving Israeli intelligence actually consisted of passing on classified information to the Russians. President Trump may not see Russia as a big threat to NATO, many of the Allies think differently, and would be very unhappy to see their classified information ending up on President Putin’s desk. They are wary of his intentions in Syria, as well as in Europe itself. Being anti-Eu and anti-NATO, Putin benefits from the rise of nationalist parties across Europe. As these, mostly far-right, parties thrive on anti-immigrant rhetoric, it can be said that Putin’s Russia would not necessarily benefit from an end to the conflict in Syria. In this regard, President Trump’s stance towards the EU only adds to the tense relations. He seems to be overlooking the fact that the EU plays a key role in the fight against terrorism, and that both the EU and NATO would benefit from closer security and intelligence cooperation in this respect. Closer cooperation within the EU could also provide more bang for the buck, something President Trump should surely appreciate. To avoid painting a too one-sided picture; the lack of a common narrative is not an issue of President Trump versus all the other NATO heads of state. Especially on the European side of the Atlantic, there was already a division over nearly every challenge the Alliance is currently facing, from the sanctions against Russia over its actions in Crimea to the best way to deal with the refugee crisis. Therefore, finding this common narrative will prove difficult either way. It would help, though, if the U.S. and the major European Allies would be able to get on the same page. Conclusion Analyzing the outcomes and echoes of the Special Meeting, NATO’s most serious challenge is to come up with a common narrative that combines and unites the priorities, goals and needs of all members. The Alliance members need to overcome the different threat perceptions, as well as find a common approach as to how to deal with these threats. This is of course easier said than done, but it is of crucial importance to effectively deal with the challenges NATO is currently facing. Bogged down in internal affairs, the West lacks the necessary unity and solidarity to constitute a united front, allowing its adversaries to thrive in the vacuum. The Special Meeting, in this regard, was of crucial importance as the Alliance has to overcome the problems via dialogue and negotiation. “Animus in Consulendo Liber.” NATO heads of state and government walk through the Agora of the new headquarters. (Photo: NATO)
  5. 5. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 5 M. Bahadırhan Dinçaslan is a Turkish Journalist, Crimean News Agency Director for Turkey. Besides serving as YATA Turkey’s President, he is a communications expert with academic interest in propaganda, has published two books and the third one, “American Civil War: The birth of modern warfare” will soon be published in the Autumn of 2017. Michael D. Shear, Mark Landler and James Kanter, “In NATO Speech, Trump Is Vague About Mutual Defense Pledge”, in The New York Times, 25 May 2017, https:// trump-eu-nato.html?mcubz=0 Jeremy Herb, “Trump Commits to NATO’s Article 5”, CNN, 9 June 2017, politics/trump-commits-to-natos-article-5/index.html Artur Kacprzyk, PISM Spotlight: “NATO Special Meeting in Brussels”, 25 May 2017, publications/spotlight/no-16-2017 Tara Palmeri and David M. Herszenhorn, “Trump, EU struggle to get on same page in Brussels”, Politico, 25 May 2017, eu-officials-on-his-first-brussels-trip/ Ryan Browne, “NATO members to increase defense spending”, CNN, 29 June 2017, http:// increase-defense-spending/index.html Jacob Pramuk, “Trump gave a speech to NATO leaders, but it's what he left out that got their attention”, CNBC, 25 May 2017, does-not-mention-support-for-article-5-in-nato-speech.html Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of NATO Heads of State and/or Government in Brussels on 25 May http:// selectedLocale=en Bethan McKernan, “NATO to join the US-led coalition against Isis fighting in Iraq and Syria”, Independent, 25 May 2017, europe/nato-us-coalition-isis-iraq-syria-donald-trump-jens- stoltenberg-brussels-visit-a7755751.html M. Bahadırhan Dinçaslan, “NATO losing war of narratives while Russia emerges as leader of nationalist bloc”, 10 August 2016, losing-war-of-narratives-while-russia-emerges-as-leader-of- nationalist-bloc/ Marianne van Leeuwen, “NATO and the War on Terror”, in Atlantisch Perspectief, 2017(3), pp.14-18 Toby Helm, Michael Savage and Mark Townsend, “We need deal with the EU to combat terror, experts tell Theresa May”, The Guardian, 27 May 2017, https:// may-combat-terror-brexit-europol Matthew Karnitschnig, “Trump confirms Europe’s worst fears”, Politico Europe, 26 May 2017, http:// fears/ About the author Bibliography
  6. 6. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 6 engages in disinformation campaigns in the United States and Europe, and funds far-right political parties, including France’s Front National. These actions are undergirded by Moscow’s disregard of international law, violating, for example, the Conventional Forces in Europe and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaties – not to mention the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation. To the south, migrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Africa flock to Europe’s shores in search of a better life. The sheer number of those who do reach the continent after an arduous journey, a total of 1.3 million who applied for asylum status in 2015 alone, places great strain on systems already struggling to meet the demands of their domestic populations. To compound that tension, some individuals exploit the sanctity of refugee status in order to execute acts of terror within Europe’s borders. Coupled with European citizens across the continent who become radicalized while living in their home countries or after returning from conflict zones, internal security continues to be, and will likely grow as, a significant concern. Terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Berlin, and London serve as grim reminders of this transnational threat. The Road to Brussels With these daunting challenges just beginning to emerge in full form, Alliance leaders took a number of key decisions at the 2014 Wales and 2016 Warsaw Summits. These initiatives would prove critical in bolstering the long-term security of NATO’s member states. FromWales to Brussels: Analyzing NATO in theTrump Era By Michelle Shevin-Coetzee T he heads of state and government of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members met in Brussels on May 25, 2017. The agenda was packed, reflecting the severity of both the European and international security environments. From discussions over combating terrorism to increasing defense spending, this meeting provided the necessary space for leaders to outline their priorities and hash out differences. But this event will likely be seen as particularly significant because it marked President Donald Trump’s first meeting with his twenty-eight Alliance counterparts. The stakes were not simply NATO’s recent initiatives, but ultimately its future as an ambitious and coherent Alliance with the United States at its core. Against that backdrop, this article will evaluate NATO’s progress since the Wales and Warsaw Summits, analyze the decisions taken at the Brussels meeting, and conclude by examining the impact of Donald Trump’s presidency on the Alliance. Setting the Context Over the last few years, NATO has faced demanding challenges, both within its immediate neighborhood and beyond its member states’ borders. To the east and increasingly in the north, a resurgent Russia melds diplomatic, economic, energy, and military tools in a strategy designed, in the words of U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, to ‘break the North Atlantic Alliance’. To that end, Russia conducts large-scale snap exercises along its neighbors’ borders, nonchalantly threatens the use of nuclear weapons,
  7. 7. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 7 Wales In September 2014, NATO heads of state and government met in Wales – their first meeting since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. To demonstrate the Alliance’s solidarity and condemn Moscow’s actions, NATO implemented three key initiatives: the Readiness Action Plan (RAP), the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), a segment of the NATO Response Force (NRF), and the infamous pledge to spend two percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense by 2024 – itself first raised formally at the 2006 Riga Summit. First, NATO approved the RAP to “assure” member states, particularly those in the east, of NATO’s commitment to their security and “adapt” its force posture to reflect new challenges. Since its implementation, RAP “assurance” initiatives have included air-policing missions, surveillance flights of Airborne Warning and Control Systems and maritime patrol aircraft, and rotational troop deployments. Second, under the guise of the RAP’s “adaptation” initiatives, NATO augmented the NRF and established the VJTF. 13,000 strong at the time of the summit, the NRF nearly tripled in size to roughly 40,000 troops in 2015, featuring air, land, sea, and special forces elements. NATO also stood up a sub-component of the NRF: the VJTF. Equipped with 20,000 troops, of which 5,000 are ground forces, the VJTF is designed as a “spearhead force” to deploy rapidly. Lastly, at the Wales Summit, NATO members committed to reversing the decline in their defense budgets. This included not only the much-discussed pledge to spend two percent of each member state’s GDP on defense by 2024, but also a commitment to invest twenty percent of the defense budget in procurement, including research and development. Each of these initiatives marked an important step forward for the Alliance, particularly at a time when putting forth a united front against Russia was critical. Since the Wales Summit, however, progress on both the NRF and the pledge to spend two percent of GDP on defense has been slow. A number of unanswered questions remain regarding NATO’s decision-making structure for deploying the VJTF, in particular, as well as what authorities the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) should have in order to respond rapidly to a potential incursion in, for example, the Baltic region. Should SACEUR have the power to call a snap exercise without the authorization of the North Atlantic Council? Or should the Alliance pass up a quicker response in favor of maintaining a consensus of all its members? This is no doubt a sensitive issue politically because of concerns over sovereignty. However, it warrants intense discussion to ensure NATO can respond effectively and flexibly to any range of contingencies – especially when confronting a potential adversary with a centralized decision-making apparatus. The two percent metric also leaves something to be desired. It represents an impressive commitment by all Allies to reverse negative trends in their defense budgets and increase military spending. In an Alliance with as Aircraft conduct a flyover at the NATO Wales Summit, September 5, 2014 (Photo: NATO)
  8. 8. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 8 many member states as NATO, this achievement should not be minimized. Nevertheless, simply touting two percent as a bumper sticker provides an incomplete picture of an Ally’s contributions to the Alliance. It fails to take into account force readiness, investments in research and development as well as procurement, niche capabilities, and a nation’s trajectory to increase defense spending. By this mark alone, Greece, the European nation with the highest figure at nearly 2.4%, would be seen as the most capable ally. Yet France, for example, a country that does not meet the two percent threshold, maintains an aircraft carrier and a nuclear capability. If one did not look past the two percent figure, these assets would not come to light. Continuing to focus exclusively on two percent, therefore, overlooks the variety of tools that each Ally brings to the Alliance and ignores their key investments and priorities. Warsaw Two years later, NATO leaders reconvened in Warsaw, this time grappling with both a resurgent Russia and a testing migration crisis, not to mention a renewed threat of terrorism. Alliance leaders took two significant decisions: to establish Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP), and to expand cooperation with the European Union (EU). First, NATO announced that it would in 2017 deploy four multinational battalions to the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as to Poland. Designed both to reassure NATO’s most vulnerable member states in the east and deter further Russian aggression, each battalion would be led by a framework nation: the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, and the United States, respectively. Together, these battalions would signal Alliance solidarity in the face of Russia’s provocative actions. Second, NATO agreed to expand its cooperation with the EU. NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg and the EU’s Jean-Claude Junker of the European Commission and Donald Tusk of the European Council, signed a joint declaration that highlights seven areas for closer collaboration between both institutions: hybrid threats, maritime security, cyber security, defense capabilities, defense industry, exercises, and resiliency. Together the EU and NATO would support each other in areas of mutual interest. Establishing an EFP and outlining a plan to deepen cooperation between the EU and NATO built on progress at the Wales Summit, but left a number of areas for further work. Today, the EFP demonstrates a strong show of solidarity for the Alliance’s easternmost nations, but largely serves as a “tripwire” that lacks the necessary components of a war-fighting force. If Russia were to cross the border into a Baltic territory, that action would be met with a multinational response. However, the EFP and NATO more broadly are short on the necessary capabilities for such an event: heavy armor, long-range rocket artillery, and munitions. Beyond the potential for a conventional conflict, EFP does little to address the very real and, arguably, more pertinent challenge of hybrid warfare. From misinformation campaigns to cyber attacks, Russia is executing a deliberate plan to destabilize Western nations. NATO’s Centers of Excellence play a role in assessing and understanding Russia’s actions, but the responses to these challenges largely fall to individual member states, preventing the Alliance from achieving a truly coordinated response. The joint declaration between the EU and NATO too represents an important deliverable, but differences in culture and vision continue to plague a deeper partnership. Some countries, including the United Kingdom and, more recently, Poland, scoff at the idea of the EU assuming new responsibilities in defense
  9. 9. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 9 matters. Instead, they argue that countries should bolster NATO initiatives and avoid duplication. On the other side of the argument are France and Germany who are actively exploring efforts to pursue greater defense integration within the EU. No matter one’s position on the EU and NATO, there remain few mechanisms that distinguish their roles and missions vis -à-vis one another. Enter Trump Following the Warsaw Summit, Alliance leaders were ready to welcome the new American President to the Alliance after the U.S. election. Yet they soon learned that what had once seemed to be the unthinkable had become the reality in November 2016: Donald Trump winning. His “America First” platform rattled Washington’s closest Allies and partners, calling into question decades of American engagement in, and support to, Europe and the vitality of the trans-Atlantic relationship. On the campaign trail, he derided multilateral partnerships, referred to NATO as ‘obsolete’, and highlighted the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU as ‘so smart’, even going as far to suggest that other European countries should follow suit. Taken together, he rejected the longstanding American policy that a Europe “whole, free, and at peace” was in the United States’ interest . Suddenly the important progress from the Wales and Warsaw Summits and even NATO’s solidarity was at risk. Surely, the Alliance of twenty-nine countries, each with its own bureaucratic system, domestic politics, and outlook on threats, clash over policies. Yet those member states maintain the same premise that their security is stronger together than it would be otherwise. This nearly seventy-year view, however, is no longer held uniformly across the leaders of NATO’s member states. There was still hope among NATO’s leaders that when candidate Trump became President Trump his most extreme views would fizzle out once confronted with the reality of governing a country with global interests and a unique leadership position. The appointment of H.R. McMaster to the position of National Security Advisor as well as the visit of Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary Mattis to the 2017 Munich Security Conference supported this theory when both men reiterated the United States’ commitment to Article 5, the Alliance’s collective defense mechanism. All eyes, therefore, would be on President Trump to see if he would do the same in Brussels. To many Americans this might seem trite, but when the ultimate decision to provide U.S. support to NATO in an Article 5 situation comes down to the commander in chief, uttering those words of commitment matters. Unfortunately, if the 2017 Brussels meeting provides a window into the President’s decision-making, NATO has learned that nothing, not even American support, can be taken for granted. Brussels Whirlwind President Trump arrived in Brussels amidst a flurry of media reports that NATO planned the meeting with an eye toward his personal style. Usually lengthy meetings would be trimmed down, no customary declaration would be issued following the discussion, and leaders would keep their talking points to a bare minimum. The agenda too would be set to reflect President Trump’s priorities: burden-sharing, including an intense focus on the two percent commitment, and counterterrorism. On burden-sharing, President Trump hammered home the same message he touted on the campaign trail: the need for Allies to reach two percent of their GDP on defense spending. ‘NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations’, President Trump lectured. He insisted that
  10. 10. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 10 individual countries ‘owe massive amounts of money from past years’ and even went a step further, suggesting that two percent of defense spending is insufficient. Calls from senior U.S. officials for NATO to meet the two percent commitment are not a new development, nor is the fact that NATO Allies should increase defense spending to confront the many challenges that the Alliance faces. For too long Europe’s defense budgets have either declined or stagnated, leaving the United States to shoulder much of the burden. However, NATO Allies do not “owe” the United States any money. The pledge in Wales was just that, a pledge; no legal framework dictates Allies’ contributions, nor are there arrearages as a result of past failure to spend two percent. Moreover, other t h a n s i m p l y misrepresenting the Alliance’s finances, President Trump also failed to recognize the crucial progress that Allies have made recently. Last year, for example, defense spending in Canada and European NATO states increased by nearly four percent or $10 billion – certainly no small figure. Instead of encouraging this progress and thanking Allies for their contributions, President Trump demanded more without reciprocating. He failed to issue the all- important personal commitment to Article 5, the first time that an American president did not express his support for the “one for all, and all for one” clause. This pledge eventually came two weeks later at a joint press conference with the Romanian President in Washington, D.C., but the omission in Brussels was particularly troubling when one acknowledges that the only invocation of Article 5 in NATO’s history was in response to the 9/11 attacks. Alliance leaders were there for the United States, but will Washington be there for Riga or Rome? On the Brussels meeting’s second priority, counterterrorism, President Trump was certainly pleased by Secretary Stoltenberg’s announcement that NATO would join the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State (IS) and establish a terrorism intelligence cell to enhance information sharing. For many months, President Trump has – w r o n g l y – proclaimed that he himself convinced the Alliance to refocus its mission on countering terrorism, arguing that ‘I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism’. Although NATO’s role in combatting terrorism is important, its decision to join the anti-IS coalition is largely symbolic and seeks to give President Trump a “quick win.” All twenty-nine NATO countries are currently members of the coalition and contribute to its mission at varying levels that are appropriate for their individual situations. What might seem like a harmless act in the short-term, President Trump’s bullish stance risks alienating members, such as France and Germany, who had argued against it and were forced to acquiesce. Both moves jeopardize the trust that NATO Military personnel take part in the opening ceremony for the new NATO headquarters, May 25, 2017 (Photo: NATO)
  11. 11. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 11 members share. As one immediate example, it could, ironically, have a significant impact on a key element of the Alliance’s counterterrorism agenda: information sharing. Already a reluctant effort among many countries, information sharing is primarily favored bilaterally or in smaller groups – not across dozens of nations. Due to concerns over leaks, the United Kingdom’s decision to stop sharing information with the United States regarding its investigation into terrorist attacks in Manchester is one instance of souring trust – between two nations that share a special relationship no less. Taken together, President Trump’s prioritization of burden-sharing and counterterrorism are necessary for the Alliance, but his efforts to score short-term political points is counterproductive. President Trump’s unilateral attitude and boorish behavior run the risk of fracturing NATO in the long-term. A Divided Alliance President Trump’s approach to NATO is exposing and widening three gaps that threaten to divide the Alliance. These divisions are between member states that advocate bilateral ties over multilateral ones, a strong EU defense policy over one for NATO, and a trans-Atlantic focus over a continental one, and vice versa. Bilateral vs. Multilateral First, there is a growing tension between NATO member states that prefer to work bilaterally as opposed to multilaterally. Certainly, an Alliance with many members does not operate solely in large groups; an organization like NATO, and the EU for that matter, can break into smaller, more manageable discussions to sort out key issues. The nations of NATO’s “Baltic bloc” are one example of members that share a common threat perception and take similar decisions along their regional line. However, President Trump’s proclivity to work on a one-on-one basis and reject multilateral forums risks disrupting well-worn Alliance formats and procedures. This approach even seems designed to extract concessions from individual members. Take his attitude toward one of NATO’s most important Allies: Germany. President Trump has accused Berlin – via Twitter – of owing ‘vast sums of money to NATO’, even arguing that ‘the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany’. More recently, President Trump took to Twitter yet again to write that ‘they [the Germans] pay far less than they should on NATO and [the] military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.’ Singling out Germany time and again, when nearly two dozen other NATO member states do not meet the two percent commitment, seeks to strong-arm Berlin into increasing its defense spending. Instead of prompting Germany to acquiesce, as President Trump intends, however, this bilateral approach only risks aggravating one of NATO’s most important Allies. In response, will Germany slow the growth of its defense budget in favor of providing additional humanitarian aid? Will it focus more closely on building consensus within Europe against President Trump’s policies? Leading up to Germany’s federal elections in September, this tension will only increase as it intertwines with the country’s domestic politics where increasing defense spending is not widely popular. President Trump’s bilateral and transactional approach to NATO is in stark contrast to member states that would rather work multilaterally. Chief among these states is Germany, a nation that prefers to interact within the framework of multinational institutions, whether NATO itself or the EU. Much of this logic stems from Germany’s historical experience; after two wars of aggression, it developed partnerships with its
  12. 12. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 12 neighbors to keep the peace and prevent another catastrophic conflict in Europe. At the 2017 Munich Security Conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that she firmly believes ‘that the challenges of today’s world cannot be overcome by any one country alone’. She went on to argue that multilateral institutions are key to strengthening security. To Germany and other NATO members, including France and Italy, working in concert with other nations, whether large or small, is crucial to overcoming security challenges. Yet this multilateral approach is developing in sharp contrast to that of President Trump, whose bilateral tactics risk splintering the Alliance at a time when it must be in lockstep. EU vs. NATO Second, the uncertainty surrounding President Trump and whether he is truly committed to Europe is exposing a rift between Alliance members who are gravitating to the EU as a vital institution for their security and others who believe that NATO should continue to be the primary pillar. Certainly moving toward a greater focus on the EU for defense matters is no rejection of NATO, but it is a development that will have long-term consequences for its ambitions, funding, and missions. Likewise, this schism is not simply driven by President Trump, but compounded by Britain’s decision to depart the EU. With the United Kingdom on its way out, NATO’s strongest supporters of the EU can explore the deeper military cooperation that had previously been blocked by London for concerns over duplication. On one end of the Alliance, therefore, stand the United States and the United Kingdom. The former, with President Trump at the center, maintains an often tepid endorsement of NATO with continual attacks on Allies’ defense spending and a concerted reluctance to commit personally to Article 5 at the recent Brussels meeting. Nonetheless, President Trump views NATO more favorably than the EU, once dismissing it by saying ‘I don’t think it matters much for the United States’. The United Kingdom is a staunch supporter of NATO, considering it the bedrock of its security. One of only five nations that reaches the two percent commitment, Britain has pledged to continue meeting this goal, as well as the twenty percent benchmark on procurement. As the United Kingdom leaves the EU, the importance it attaches to NATO for its defense and security policies will only grow – perhaps so much so that the next NATO Secretary General will be British. Nonetheless, London must be cognizant that should the pound sterling weaken further, it could expose a significant “black hole” in its defense budget. On the other end of the Alliance are Germany and France. Long advocates of a greater role for the EU in defense matters, Berlin and Paris led Brussels’ effort to establish the Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) office. Designed “for the planning and conduct of non- executive military missions”, it represents a small, but important first step toward greater European defense integration. Alongside this development, senior European leaders are also discussing a range of ideas to bolster their own security within the EU, an initiative that once seemed like a choice that is now deemed a President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May at the NATO Special Meeting on May 25, 2017 (Photo: NATO)
  13. 13. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 13 necessity with President Trump’s waffling commitment. From the recent launch of a European Defense Fund to talk of a nuclear sharing agreement that would see France provide an explicit guarantee to other European states in exchange for German funding, ideas that were once thought to be unthinkable are slowly creeping into the mainstream. With the recent election of Emmanuel Macron as France’s President, these discussions will grow more intense as he pushes alongside Chancellor Merkel for a greater EU role in defense matters. What – potentially duplicative – impact this development will have on NATO is unknown. Trans-Atlanticists vs. Continentalists Finally, President Trump is causing a split within NATO between countries that prioritize the trans- Atlantic relationship and those that prefer the continental one. On the side of trans-Atlanticists are the United States and the United Kingdom, two countries that share a unique bond through their “special relationship”. For decades, Washington and, to a lesser extent, London have provided an ironclad guarantee for European security. The United States has demonstrated its central role within NATO both formally, by reserving the deputy secretary general position for an American, and informally, by coordinating efforts among Allies. Over the past seventy years, the United States has stood side-by-side with Alliance members in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and maintained a global outlook with its forward-deployed troops. In sum, the United States’ historic role in NATO has been the anchor around which other member states operate. Now, however, many NATO members are looking to continental Europe, not the United States or the United Kingdom, to bolster their security. This sentiment is best captured by a speech Chancellor Merkel gave at the end of May. Reflecting on her experience at the Brussels meeting and subsequent G7 summit, Chancellor Merkel concluded that ‘the era in which we could fully rely on others is over to some extent’. Although she did not mention President Trump by name, her use of the word “others” is an unmistakable signal toward the United States (and also the United Kingdom). Chancellor Merkel went on to explain that Washington is no longer the ironclad security provider that it once was, suggesting that ‘we Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands’. In addition to standing up the new MPCC office as a means to that end, Berlin has also pushed for a softer approach to defense policy. Instead of solely considering security in terms of military might, Germany has argued that support to refugees and the provision of humanitarian aid are key components. This is in sharp contrast to the United States’ position – and particularly distant from President Trump’s vision for defense. Both elements of soft and hard power are essential to bolster security, but pitting these viewpoints against each other is only one manifestation of two very different approaches to NATO. This broader split as to whether the United States or Europe is at the core of security risks fracturing the Alliance. Taking NATO Forward NATO is under significant strain, not just from the many external challenges it faces, but also from President Trump’s approach to the Alliance. To address these concerns, the following recommendations provide a starting point for overcoming a splintering within NATO. Resurrect Smart Defense Introduced at the 2012 Chicago Summit, Smart Defense was designed as a ‘cooperative way of generating modern defense capabilities that the Alliance needs, in a more cost-efficient, effective, and coherent
  14. 14. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 14 manner’. NATO’s Deputy Secretary General and Supreme Allied Commander, Transformation were appointed the initiative’s special envoys and tasked with encouraging Allies to pool and invest jointly in key capabilities. In an era of limited resources, the hope was that long gone would be the days of NATO Allies maintaining twenty-three different versions of one helicopter. Since Smart Defense’s debut, however, it has largely atrophied. With NATO consumed by a steady string of crises from north to south, responding to Russian aggression and terrorism overtook Smart Defense on the list of priorities. In 2017, President Trump’s arrival provides a unique opportunity for NATO to resurrect the Smart Defense concept and reinvigorate its process for encouraging Allies to pool resources and invest in capabilities that the Alliance needs the most, including air-to-air refueling and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets. If President Trump is truly committed to addressing concerns over burden-sharing within the Alliance, as he seems to be, NATO could appoint the United States as the designated framework nation to lead this initiative. Doing so would have the dual effect of allowing President Trump to claim a victory in pushing Allies toward a more equitable burden- sharing arrangement and giving a second life to NATO’s efforts to coordinate planning and procurement policies across the Alliance. For President Trump, criticizing unequal or “insufficient” spending is one thing, but offering solutions to the problem will be another. Update the Two Percent Pledge The commitment by Allies to spend two percent of GDP on defense is no doubt controversial. With only five Allies currently meeting this threshold, there is plenty of work over the next seven years to enable the remaining twenty-four members to hit the 2024 deadline. Yet, as discussed earlier, the two percent pledge can be seen as a bumper sticker, failing to take into account other key markers of an effective Ally’s military: high readiness, funding for research and development, including procurement, maintenance of niche capabilities, and an upward trajectory to reach its spending goals. Two percent, therefore, is not an ideal metric, but it is nonetheless the one that Allies use and will likely keep for years to come. Instead of opening what could quickly become a bitter debate over an alternative to two percent, NATO could implement a review mechanism at the end of each year that evaluates Alliance contributions. It would determine how much “bang for the buck” each Ally provides and focus on outputs – not simply the inputs that go into reaching two percent. This would also build upon NATO’s important requirement for Allies to develop and submit national plans that demonstrate a path toward achieving the two percent goal. A more holistic review mechanism could fit into the fifth stage of NATO’s Defense Planning Process, where the Alliance evaluates whether Allies met their political objectives in the previous year. At the end of the day, what matters is not just that Allies increase defense spending, but that they invest in the key capabilities that will bolster their security. Establish Rotating Presidencies President Trump’s unilateral push for NATO to accommodate his priorities risks alienating Allies who hold different perspectives. Instead of providing the space for each Ally, whether large or small, to share its take on challenges and potential solutions, President Trump seems to believe that only the most powerful and biggest spenders should have a seat at the table. In an Alliance where consensus is paramount, President Trump’s vision for NATO clashes sharply with its nearly
  15. 15. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 15 seventy-year history. To enable all twenty-nine Allies to speak freely and, most importantly, be heard, NATO could establish six- month rotating presidencies, much like the European Council. This would allow all Allies an equal period to set their priorities for NATO’s agenda, propose concrete initiatives in support of them, and develop deeper partnerships across the Alliance. Within this setting, President Trump could prioritize burden- sharing and counterterrorism with less risk of Allies’ scoffing at an overbearing United States that ignores others’ views. For the six-month period, the Ally holding the rotational presidency could send a small delegation of Ministry of Defense officials from its capital to Brussels in order to expose more of its own staff to NATO’s decision-making procedures and structures. Moreover, holding the rotational presidency would provide Allies with a deeper sense of commitment to the Alliance and a responsibility to deliver on the issues they set out. Avoid Repackaging With President Trump’s skepticism of NATO in plain view, leaders might find it necessary to accommodate his views and business-like approach to counteract any qualms he might have about the United States’ commitment to the Alliance. Whether at the Brussels meeting or in bilateral forums, key leaders have carefully studied President Trump’s approach to find ways of building a relationship that plays to his strengths. Chancellor Merkel, for example, has been particularly adept, courting President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. In what could be seen as an effort to establish communication links with the White House, Chancellor Merkel invited Ms. Trump to the Women 20 Summit, held earlier this year in Germany. Although these efforts are essential to bridge gaps between governments and develop relationships, within an Alliance-wide context, acquiescing to President Trump’s demands risks forfeiting NATO’s progress over the past few years. If NATO leaders continue putting themselves in the mindset that they must repackage old initiatives to allow President Trump to take credit for what he believes are his own ideas, NATO will become complacent and lose sight of other topics that it must address. Perhaps the Alliance is at great enough risk that accommodating President Trump is in its immediate interest. However, what might seem like a win in the short-term – keeping President Trump supportive of the Alliance – will have a long-term impact on how NATO assesses threats, builds consensus, and addresses challenges. Conclusion NATO has come a long way over the past few years. Since the 2014 Wales and 2016 Warsaw Summits, NATO has nearly tripled the number of its response forces, bolstered their readiness, committed to reversing declines in the defense budget and meeting the two percent and twenty percent pledges, enhanced its presence in key areas, and developed a roadmap for a stronger partnership with the EU. These initiatives have assured NATO’s most vulnerable members to the east and assisted those in the south. Despite this important work, however, NATO’s progress is at risk not just from the many external forces that will continue to challenge the Alliance, but also from within. President Trump’s departure from the United States’ longstanding and ironclad commitment to NATO risks dividing it along three lines: bilateral against multilateral, EU against NATO, and trans-Atlanticists against continentalists. To preserve and enhance NATO’s unity for the future, these are the divisions that its leaders must mend as they approach the 2018 Summit.
  16. 16. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 16 Michelle Shevin-Coetzee is a Research Assistant at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, D.C. She also serves as the President of the Women in International Security DC Chapter and previously worked as a Researcher at the Center for a New American Security. Birnbaum, Michael, “Trump’s Calls for Europe to Increase Defense Spending Could Force Other Upheaval,” The Washington Post, Feb. 15, 2017, https:// for-europe-to-increase-defense-spending-could-force- other-upheaval/2017/02/15/fe257b44-efc1-11e6-a100- fdaaf400369a_story.html?utm_term=.a70e52021560. Brands, Hal. Dealing with Allies in Decline: Alliance Management and U.S. Strategy in an Era of Global Power Shifts. Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2017, documents/ALLIES_in_DECLINE_FINAL_b.pdf. Connor, Phillip, “Number of Refugees to Europe Surges to Record 1.3 Million in 2015,” Pew Research Center, Aug. 2, 2016, number-of-refugees-to-europe-surges-to-record-1-3- million-in-2015/. Cook, William, “Taking Ivanka Trump Seriously is a Masterstroke by Angela Merkel,” The Spectator, Apr. 26, 2017, ivanka-trump-seriously-masterstroke-angela-merkel/#. Edelman, Eric S. and Whitney Morgan McNamara. U.S. Strategy for Maintaining a Europe Whole and Free. Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2017, documents/CSBA6235_%28EDS_Europe_Report% 29v2_web.pdf. “Full Transcript of Interview with Donald Trump.” Interview by Michael Gove and Kai Diekmann. The Times, Jan. 16, 2017, transcript-of-interview-with-donald-trump-5d39sr09d. Gramer, Robbie, “NATO Frantically Tries to Trump- Proof President’s First Visit,” Foreign Policy, May. 15, 2017, tries-to-trump-proof-presidents-first-visit-alliance-europe- brussels/. “Joint Declaration by the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission, and the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Jul. 8, 2016, h t t p : / / w w w . n a t o . i n t / c p s / d e / n a t o h q / official_texts_133163.htm. Kaminski, Matthew, “Awkward First Date in Munich,” Politico Europe, Feb. 19, 2017, article/news-us-europe-munich-security-conference-pence- mattis-europe-analysis/. Martin, Garrett and Balazs Martonffy, “Abandon the 2 Percent Obsession: a New Rating for Pulling Your Weight in NATO,” War on the Rocks, May. 19, 2017, https:// obsession-a-new-rating-for-pulling-your-weight-in-nato/. McTague, Tom and Giulia Paravicini, “David Cameron ‘Courted’ for Top NATO Post,” Politico Europe, Feb. 18, 2017, courted-for-top-nato-post/. Merkel, Angela. “Speech by Federal Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel on 18 February 2017 at the 53rd Munich Security Conference,” [Transcript]. Office of the Federal Chancellor, Feb. 18, 2017, EN/Reden/2017/2017-02-18-bkin-rede-msk_en.html. “NATO’s Readiness Action Plan,” North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Jul. 2016, n a t o _ s t a t i c _ f l 2 0 1 4 / a s s e t s / p d f / pdf_2016_07/20160627_1607-factsheet-rap-en.pdf. North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the Meeting of NATO Heads of State and/or Government in About the author Bibliography
  17. 17. Atlantic Voices, Volume 7, Issue 06 17 Brussels on 25 May,” May. 25, 2017, http:// Paravicini, Giulia, “Angela Merkel: Europe Must Take ‘Our Fate’ Into Own Hands,” Politico Europe, May. 28, 2017, europe-cdu-must-take-its-fate-into-its-own-hands-elections- 2017/. Polyakova, Alina, et al. The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses. Washington, D.C.: Atlantic Council, 2016, http:// The_Kremlins_Trojan_Horses_web_0228_third_edition.p df. Randerson, James, “UK to Stop Sharing Intelligence about Manchester Attack with US: Report,” Politico Europe, May. 25, 2017, -sharing-intelligence-about-manchester-attack-with-us- report/. Riley-Smith, Ben, “Ministry of Defence Facing £700 Million Black Hole After Pound Slumps Against Dollar,” The Telegraph, Aug. 10, 2016, news/2016/08/10/ministry-of-defence-facing-700-million- black-hole-after-pound-sl/. Russia’s Violations of Borders, Treaties, and Human Rights, Committee on Foreign Relations, Senate, 114th Cong. (2016) (Testimony of Michael R. Carpenter), https:// w w w . f o r e i g n . s e n a t e . g o v / i m o / m e d i a / doc/060716_Carpenter_Testimony.pdf. “Security and Defence: Council Reviews Progress and Agrees to Improve Support for Military Missions,” European Council, Mar. 6, 2017, en/press/press-releases/2017/03/06-defence-security/. “Smart Defense,” North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Feb. 20, 2017, topics_84268.htm. To Conduct a Confirmation Hearing on the Expected Nomination of Mr. James N. Mattis to be Secretary of Defense, Committee on Armed Services, Senate, 115th Cong. (2017) (Testimony of James N. Mattis), https://www.armed- Trump, Donald. Twitter moment 1. Mar. 18, 2017, retrieved from, status/843090516283723776. Trump, Donald. Twitter moment 2. May. 30, 2017, retrieved from status/869503804307275776. Trump, Donald, WATCH: President Trump NATO Summit Speech in Brussels, Belgium 5/25/2017 Trump Nato Summit LIVE, May. 25, 2017, online video, watch?v=NBSaNMGpKo0. “Umfrage – Nur ein Drittel der Deutschen für höhere Militärausgaben,” Reuters Deutschland, Dec. 15, 2016, http:// idDEKBN1441VR. United Kingdom, Prime Minister’s Office. “PM Meeting with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg: 10 May 2017.” Downing Street, May. 10, 2017, government/speeches/pm-meeting-with-nato-secretary- general-stoltenberg-10-may-2017. United States, Office of the Press Secretary. “Joint Press Conference of President Trump and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg.” The White House, Apr. 12, 2017, h t t p s : / / w w w . w h i t e h o u s e . g o v / t h e - p r e s s - office/2017/04/12/joint-press-conference-president-trump- and-nato-secretary-general. “Wales Summit Declaration,” North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Sept. 5, 2014, natohq/official_texts_112964.htm. “Warsaw Summit Communiqué,” North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Jul. 9, 2016, natohq/official_texts_133169.htm. Wright, Thomas, “Trump’s NATO Article 5 Problem,” Brookings, May. 17, 2017, blog/order-from-chaos/2017/05/17/trumps-nato-article-5- problem/. Wright, Thomas. “Trump’s 19th Century Foreign Policy.” Politico Magazine, Jan. 20, 2016, magazine/story/2016/01/donald-trump-foreign-policy- 213546.
  18. 18. This publication is co-sponsored by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Atlantic Voices is always seeking new material. If you are a young research- er, a subject expert or a professional and feel you have a valuable contri- bution to make to the debate, then please get in touch. We are looking for papers, essays, and book reviews on issues of importance to the NATO Alliance. For details of how to submit your work please see our website at: Editor: Marianne Copier YATA/ATA Programs The Riga Conference Future Leaders Forum The Riga Conference Future Leaders Forum will take place in Riga on September 28 – 30, 2017 alongside one of the leading foreign and security policy forums in Northern Europe: The Riga Conference 2017. The Forum will provide a unique opportunity for 45 young, talented and motivated diplomats, journalists, politicians, and state officials in-the- making to spend three days participating in numerous panel discussions, Night-Owl sessions, several workshops, and of course the Riga Conference 2017. The Future Leaders Forum will cover trending global outlooks on the security of the European Union, NATO‘s possible further cooperation in the North, Europe’s Southern neighborhood, as well as topics such as modern terrorism and how to fight it. Applicants should be undergraduate or graduate level students, or young professionals aged between 20 and 27. For more information, please go to The deadline for application is August 6, 2017. Images should not be reproduced without permission from sources listed, and remain the sole property of those sources. Unless otherwise stated, all images are the property of NATO. Atlantic Voices is the monthly publication of the Atlantic Treaty Associa- tion. It aims to inform the debate on key issues that affect the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, its goals and its future. The work published in Atlantic Voices is written by young professionals and researchers. The Atlantic Treaty Association (ATA) is an international non- governmental organization based in Brussels working to facilitate global networks and the sharing of knowledge on transatlantic cooperation and security. By convening political, diplomatic, and military leaders with academics, media representatives and young professionals, the ATA promotes the values set forth in the North Atlantic Treaty: Democracy, Freedom, Liberty, Peace, Security, and Rule of Law. The ATA membership extends to 37 countries from North America to the Caucasus throughout Europe. In 1996, the Youth Atlantic Treaty Association (YATA) was created to specifially include the successor generation in our work. Since 1954, the ATA has advanced the public’s knowledge and understanding of the importance of joint efforts to transatlantic security through its international programs, such as the Central and South Eastern European Security Forum, the Ukraine Dialogue and its Educational Platform. In 2011, the ATA adopted a new set of strategic goals that reflects the constantly evolving dynamics of international cooperation. These goals include:  The establishment of new and competitive programs on international security issues;  The development of research initiatives and security-related events for its members;  The expansion of ATA’s international network of experts to countries in Northern Africa and Asia. The ATA is realizing these goals through new programs, more policy activism, and greater emphasis on joint research initiatives. These programs will also aid in the establishment of a network of international policy experts and professionals engaged in a dialogue with NATO. The views expressed in this article are entirely those of the authors. They do not necessarily represent the views of the Atlantic Treaty Association, its members, affiliates or staff.