Disunity: NATO’s 70th anniversary is marked by inner discord and open conflict.
Last week it finally became clear: Jens Stoltenberg gets to extend the term of his job as general secretary of NATO.
The former Norwegian prime minister will lead the military alliance until 2022, after getting support from the governments of all the most important NATO countries.
This is happening as NATO marks its 70th anniversary. The jubilee is being recognized as part of the meeting of foreign ministers in Washington, D.C., and Stoltenberg’s task is to turn good memories into a simple game.
The alliance, in fact, has creaking joints. Its long list of problems includes both enervating German defense budgets and a Turkey that is not abiding by American demands.
Small German Budgets
Two weeks ago, the German Finance Ministry published its prognosis for defense budgets over the next few years. Even though the predictions include more money, growth is low, and the defense budgets will constitute a lower proportion of the German gross domestic product.
While the American government insists that all NATO countries spend 2% of their GDP on defense by 2024, the German Finance Ministry has planned a share of just 1.25%.
This is a reduction from the share it is currently paying, and well below the demand by the United States.
The Trump administration has reacted sharply to the news, and President Donald Trump said last week that the countries that do not pay enough “will be handled.”*
The issue is the latest in a string of conflicts between the U.S. and Germany. Klassekampen has previously reported the controversy surrounding Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.
The U.S. has issued strong statements opposing the project, and has threatened German companies with sanctions. The whole project has now been put on ice because Denmark demanded a review of environmental consequences that the gas pipeline could have.
Trouble with Turkey
Another one of Stoltenberg’s headaches concerns Turkey. The NATO country buys F-35 fighter jets from the U.S., as do Norway and several other allies.
The problem is that Turkey simultaneously decided to buy the S-400 missile defense system from Russia.
The S-400 is a highly advanced system, created to shoot down modern fighter jets such as the F-35.
The U.S. administration vehemently protested Turkey’s decision based on the fact that the data system that controls the S-400 will be connected to the data system that controls the F-35.
The U.S. fears that this could give the Russian government access to the source code that controls the new fighter jets. It would give the Russian military and the Russian defense industry a great advantage.
Accordingly, the U.S. has decided to halt delivery of F-35 jets to Turkey.
“The United States has been clear that Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 is unacceptable,” said Pentagon spokesman Charles E. Summers Jr. this past Monday, according to The Defense Post website.
Nuclear Arms Race Again
Despite the fact that Trump has repeatedly questioned United States membership in NATO, the American military has been upgrading its defenses in Europe.
American B-52 bombers flew over the North Atlantic and Baltic Sea last week. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the exercise was a demonstration of U.S. willingness to defend Europe with nuclear weapons should that become necessary.
The deployment of American bombers marks an escalation of tensions between NATO and Russia. The breakdown of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was a dramatic part of this escalation.
The Trump administration announced that the U.S would withdraw from the INF Treaty without first seeking any input from the European NATO countries.
The U.S. laid blame on Russia, and claimed that the Russian military had developed intermediate-range missiles that violated the INF Treaty. The European NATO countries stood behind that accusation, but reacted all the same to the U.S. unilateralism.
The INF Treaty banned intermediate-range missiles, a type of missile that proved to be especially dangerous for stability in Europe at the end of the Cold War.
Disagreement on China
At the same time the U.S. is arming itself against Russia, it is also trying to get its NATO allies to join in a united front against China.
Washington therefore took it badly when Italy signed an agreement to take part in China’s global infrastructure program.
China is using infrastructure projects in many places around the world as a way to increase its global influence, and both the U.S. and the EU have been critical of the Italian government’s decision to participate in the program.
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry expects that China will expand its strategy to include the Arctic as well, and State Secretary Audun Halvorsen of the Conservative Party at the Foreign Ministry is following this development closely.
At a Norwegian Institute of International Affairs conference in January, Halvorsen said that for Norway, it is not appropriate to sign an agreement with China, as Italy has now done.
The US Is a Great Threat
Concurrent with the American government positioning itself as critical to a string of decisions in the European NATO countries, trust in the U.S. is falling in Europe.
The Pew Research Center recently published a poll showing that a whopping 73% of Germans believe that the relationship between the U.S. and Germany is now bad. That is a significant increase from the year before.
In Germany and France, half of respondents answered that they see American influence as a great threat to the country. That is, in fact, a greater showing than in Russia, where only 43% of respondents considered American influence a great threat.
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quoted remark could not be independently verified.