Ending divisive meeting, NATO agrees to Baltics defence plan

Erdogan appears to back down on threat to block defence plan, as Trump clashes with Trudeau.

Britain''s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L), US President Donald Trump (C), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (2R), Turkey''s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and other NATO leaders leave the stage afte
After bitter divisions between members were revealed in London, NATO members united to agree on a defence plan to counter what they called Russia's 'aggressive actions' [Peter Nicholls/AFP]

Following a day of drama that revealed deep wounds within NATO, members of the military alliance meeting near London attempted to put on a united front by adopting a common summit statement as they agreed to an updated defence plan for the Baltics and Poland, which Turkey had previously threatened to block.

NATO leaders said in a concluding statement on Wednesday that Russia’s “aggressive actions” were a threat to Euro-Atlantic security, and that China’s growing influence presented challenges for the alliance.

“Our solemn commitment as enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that an attack against one ally shall be considered an attack against us all,” they said.

Turkey had warned it would refuse to endorse the plan to bolster defence in Baltic states neighbouring Russia and Poland, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanding the alliance recognise groups that Ankara deems terrorists, including the YPG militia.

But NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Wednesday, “We stand together, all for one and one for all. Our commitment to Article 5, the collective defence clause of our alliance, is ironclad.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to the developments, saying on Wednesday that Russia would not get involved in an arms race with NATO, even if the alliance increased its military spending.

Stoltenberg has claimed that European allies and Canada have added $130bn to their defence spending since 2016. Peskov said NATO’s increased spending “reinforces” the Kremlin’s concerns.

According to Reuters news agency, Stoltenberg said members did not discuss the YPG militia on Wednesday. 

Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Watford, said: “Stoltenberg said they were moving forward with the protection of Poland and the Baltic states, but it was not really clear whether there was a total resolution. It is clear he’s trying to paper over the differences we’ve seen in the open since NATO leaders arrived here.”

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump and his French counterpart clashed over NATO’s role and its future, with the US leader entering a war of words between Emmanuel Macron and  Erdogan.

Trump tore into Macron during a 52-minute news conference, rallying against European tax policies and criticising the French leader’s remark that NATO was “brain dead” as “very, very nasty”.

Macron stood by his comment and, referring to Turkey, said members disagreed over the definition of terrorism with regard to the YPG militia.

The French president first made his assessment of NATO in a November 7 interview with The Economist, as he criticised a lack of coordination between members of the alliance over Turkey’s recent operation in Syria. 

Erdogan later responded, challenging Macron to check his own “brain death”.

Several other NATO members also disagreed with Turkey’s operation, with some suspending arms sales to Ankara.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, Stoltenberg said members declared space as the “fifth operational domain”, as they agreed to prepare for conflicts in space, the Arctic and computer networks, as well as traditional land, sea and air battles.

NATO also warned China for the first time that it is monitoring Beijing’s growing military might.

After the meeting ended, Trump described Justin Trudeau as “two-faced” after the Canadian prime minister was caught on camera apparently mocking him.

“He’s two-faced,” he told reporters, saying he had called out Trudeau on defence spending “and he’s not very happy about it”.

The US leader later cancelled his planned closing news conference.

Trump is currently battling against efforts to impeach him, with the Democrat-led US House of Representatives set to reach a turning point on Wednesday in its inquiry.

Commenting on divisions between NATO members, Stoltenberg said: “Our rhetoric is not always excellent, but our substance is perfect.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies