NATO summit 2018: All you need to know
Funding and upcoming Trump-Putin talks have dominated discussions in the lead-up to Wednesday’s summit in Brussels.
Dozens of heads of state and government are set to meet in Brussels on Wednesday for what is likely to be a stormy NATO summit.
Although the 29-member military alliance’s annual meetings have traditionally been fairly by-the-book affairs, expectations are different this year – thanks, in large, to Donald Trump.
In office since January 2017, the US president has been openly critical of many of NATO’s practices, often railing against Washington spending more money on defence than other member states.
Trump’s criticism might put further strain on the relationship between the Western allies, especially following last month’s turbulent G7 meeting.
Here are some of the key talking points around this year’s summit.
On Tuesday, while on his way to the Belgian capital, Trump sent out a tweet about the funding of NATO – a recurring theme in his criticism.
Most of the countries do not spend the recommended two percent of GDP on defence, something Trump has repeatedly complained about.
Many countries in NATO, which we are expected to defend, are not only short of their current commitment of 2% (which is low), but are also delinquent for many years in payments that have not been made. Will they reimburse the U.S.?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2018
The US president sent out a similar tweet on Monday morning, saying Washington spending more on defence than the other NATO members was unfair to US taxpayers.
He followed that tweet up by saying, “NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair!”
On Tuesday, the alliance said seven out of 27 European members were on track to meet the two percent spending target: Britain, Greece, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Lithuania and Romania.
Along with the US, that would make eight in all, “compared with just three allies in 2014,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.
Despite the increase, NATO members will almost certainly get told by Trump their spending still is not sufficient.
Ahead of the meeting, European Council President Donald Tusk took Trump to task for “criticising Europe almost daily.”
“Dear President Trump: America does not have, and will not have a better ally than Europe,” Tusk said on Tuesday. “Today Europeans spend on defence many times more than Russia, and as much as China,” he added.
“Dear America, appreciate your allies, after all, you don’t have that many,” he warned.
NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe
Eastern European countries are looking to use the summit to increase the number of troops stationed in their countries as a show of strength towards Russia.
“Since we joined NATO, we felt like a second-grade member of the alliance because we could not have permanent or even temporary NATO bases here”, former Polish ambassador to Afghanistan Piotr Lukasiewicz told Al Jazeera.
The Polish defence ministry has proposed setting up a joint armoured division that would have 15,000 US troops and a total of 250 tanks and armoured vehicles.
Setting up such a force would present an unequivocal challenge towards what they describe as Russia’s increasingly bold and dangerous posture towards Europe.
Other NATO countries are also expanding their presence in Eastern Europe, with Canada announcing it would extend its military presence in Latvia for another four years.
Moscow has warned it will retaliate against any NATO expansion on its western flank.
Despite attempts to increase the military strength of Eastern European countries, Trump’s criticism has led to a weakening of US political power in Estonia, where the US Ambassador James D Melville Jr resigned because of the president’s rhetoric towards NATO and the European Union.
“For the President to say the EU was ‘set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank,’ or that ‘NATO is as bad as NAFTA’ is not only factually wrong but proves to me that it’s time to go,” Melville said in response to comments made by Trump according to a report by Foreign Policy.
The resignation came just weeks before Wednesday’s summit, highlighting the fact that Trump’s policies are not only dividing US allies but also senior US officials.
A meeting between Trump and Putin
After attending the NATO summit, Trump will travel to the UK for his first official visit and then to Finland, where he is scheduled to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking about the upcoming meetings on his European tour, including his first summit with the Russian president on July 16 in Helsinki, Trump told reporters “frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think?”
Putin had two brief meetings with Trump on the sidelines of international summits last year, but plans for a full-fledged summit had been delayed amid FBI and Congressional probes into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election – dismissed by the US president as a “witch-hunt”.
US allies who want to isolate Putin – such as Britain – or who are concerned about Trump’s attitude towards Russia, are likely to be irritated by such a summit.
Still, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton defended the meeting, saying that “direct contact between Trump and Putin is in the US national interest.”
“There are a wide range of issues, despite the differences between us, where both President Trump and President Putin think they may be able to find constructive solutions,” he said.
“I’d like to hear someone say that’s a bad idea.”
For his part, Stoltenberg also welcomed the meeting between Trump and Putin, saying that “for me, dialogue is not a sign of weakness. Dialogue is a sign of strength.”
“It’s absolutely, totally in line with NATO policies to talk to Russia, to meet with Russian leaders. We don’t want a new Cold War. We don’t want to isolate Russia. We want to strive for a better relationship,” Stoltenberg said.