NATO’s 70th Birthday Overshadowed By Top-Level Feuding

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg gives a press conference on the eve of a NATO summit in London at the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) headquarters in Brussels on November 29, 2019
JOHN THYS / AFP

 

NATO marks its 70th birthday at a summit next week but the celebration could well turn into an arena of political combat between the alliance’s feuding leaders.

Heads of state and government will descend on London Tuesday bracing for a scrap overspending and how to deal with Russia, in a huge test of unity within NATO — billed by its own officials as the “most successful alliance in history”.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly accused European countries of failing to pay their way and will be looking for evidence they are stepping up defence spending.

France’s Emmanuel Macron has despaired of the club’s strategic direction, saying it is suffering “brain death” — riling other leaders and drawing a rare public rebuke from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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And, on Friday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, furious at Western criticism of his operation in northern Syria against the Kurds, hit back with a personal attack on Macron.

“First of all, have your own brain death checked. These statements are suitable only to people like you who are in a state of brain death,” Erdogan declared Friday.

In a televised speech, Erdogan said he would “say this at NATO”.

French officials summoned the Turkish envoy in Paris to complain while a US administration official said that many members would tackle Turkey over its purchase of a Russian S-400 air defence system.

This combustible line-up is dropping into a Britain gripped by a frenetic national election campaign, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s friendship with Trump under attack from opposition parties.

Personal duels aside, the NATO summit agenda is pretty thin. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is hoping simply to get the leaders to sign off on decisions already taken.

Last year’s NATO summit in Brussels went off the rails when Trump launched a tirade at Merkel during a televised breakfast meeting.

The week before this summit has seen a stage-managed series of spending announcements, all designed to send what one diplomat called a “political signal” to appease Trump.

‘Trump Is Right’

Stoltenberg was at pains to point out on Friday that non-US defence spending has grown for four straight years and is on course to hit $130 billion next year.

A Trump administration official expected 18 of the 29 members to meet the alliance’s two per cent target by 2024.

Stoltenberg said Trump was right about Europe and Canada needs to spend more, but not “to please President Trump”.

“They should invest in defence because we are facing new challenges, our security environment has become more dangerous,” he told reporters.

Stoltenberg is attempting to mollify Trump ahead of the summit by talking up a billion-dollar contract with US planemaker Boeing to upgrade the organisation’s reconnaissance planes.

NATO members have also agreed to lower the cap on US contributions to the alliance’s relatively small $2.5 billion operating budget, meaning Germany and other European countries — but not France — will pay more.

But such measures are a drop in the ocean compared to the tens of billions of dollars Europeans would have to spend to meet their promise to spend two percent of their national GDPs on defence.

In 2014, the allies promised to meet this goal within a decade. But this week Merkel admitted that economic powerhouse Germany would not hit this sum before “the early 2030s”.

Stoltenberg insists Trump’s tone towards NATO has been more positive of late, and a senior US administration official said Friday Trump’s spending campaign had been “spectacularly successful.”

‘Still Working Out What He Wants’

But Macron’s broadside to an Economist interview earlier this month took many by surprise.

The French leader stood by his remarks after talks with Stoltenberg, saying NATO was failing to address relations with Russia and what do to about Turkey.

Macron’s forthright comments have drawn sharp public criticism, both from Germany and from eastern European NATO countries that feel threatened by Russia.

An official from Macron’s office told reporters that NATO lacks political direction and relies too much on the US.

“We can’t sweep debates under the carpet because we’re afraid the Americans will disengage further” he added.

A Trump administration official on Friday dismissed the “brain death” comments, saying “President Macron is still kind of working out what he wants out of the group”.

The official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Trump will tell the NATO summit that China and Russia remain major challenges.

“China above all,” the official added.

Tomas Valasek, a former Slovak ambassador to NATO, said even if there was merit in opening debate, Macron had overstepped the mark.

“NATO leaders have a responsibility that thinks tankers don’t,” said Valasek, now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe thinktank.

“If you run one of the nuclear powers and in some ways the most powerful military in Europe you don’t want to feed the perception of NATO disunity and I’m afraid that’s what he’s done.”

At the London summit, leaders will consider separate French and German proposals for expert committees to mull how NATO can improve its strategic thinking.

Stoltenberg last week welcomed the German plan to create a group of experts — chaired by Stoltenberg himself — but was cool on the French plan.

No formal statement by all 29 leaders will be issued. Instead, there will be a “short declaration on the ‘success story of NATO'”, a diplomat said.

AFP

NATO ‘Deeply Concerned’ By Libya Violence

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

NATO is “deeply concerned” by the escalating violence in Libya, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday, calling on all sides to stop fighting as a deadly power struggle rages.

As the battle between armed groups for control of Tripoli intensified, Stoltenberg urged the rivals to support UN efforts to broker a truce.

“We are deeply concerned by the situation in Libya. We call on all parties to end the fighting, as called for by the United Nations,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.

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“The current military operation and advance on Tripoli are increasing the suffering of the Libyan people and putting civilian lives at risk.”

Libya has been riven by divisions since the NATO-backed overthrow of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, with various armed groups and two parallel governments vying for territory and oil wealth.

Heavy arms fire was heard during much of the night on the southeastern outskirts of Tripoli as strongman Khalifa Haftar’s forces pressed an assault aimed at taking the capital from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), which controls swathes of the country’s east, appears to be advancing on two fronts, from the south and southeast of Tripoli, while coastal roads to the east and west of the city are defended by fighters loyal to the GNA.

Stoltenberg insisted “there is no military solution to the situation in Libya” and called on all parties to pursue the political path instead.

AFP

North Korea Sanctions Must Stay Pending ‘Concrete Changes’ – NATO Chief

North Korea Sanctions Must Stay Pending 'Concrete Changes' – NATO Chief
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg gives a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister in Ankara, on April 16, 2018. ADEM ALTAN / AFP

 

The world must maintain sanctions on North Korea until “concrete changes” in its actions are seen, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned Thursday on the eve of a historic inter-Korean summit.

Stoltenberg welcomed the meeting planned for Friday between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the South’s president Moon Jae-in but said there should be no let up yet in pressure on Pyongyang.

“Until we see a concrete change in North Korea’s actions we must continue to put pressure on North Korea and continue with the sanctions,” Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Friday’s meeting at the line that divides the Korean peninsula will be only the third of its kind, following summits in Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007.

Stoltenberg said the summit, which comes ahead of a much-anticipated meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump, was “a first important step towards a negotiated peaceful solution to the crisis on the Korean peninsula”.

“One of the reasons why we see the progress we have seen over recent weeks is because there has been strong pressure on North Korea, not least by sanctions that the UN has adopted,” Stoltenberg said.

“I welcome both that UN has been able to agree on stricter sanctions on North Korea but also that we have seen that they have been implemented to a higher degree than before.”

The tension-wracked peninsula has seen a dramatic diplomatic rapprochement in recent weeks, since Moon used the South’s Winter Olympics as an opportunity to broker dialogue with Pyongyang.

AFP

NATO Chief Opposes Confrontation With Russia

NATO, Russia, Cold warThe Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, (NATO), Jens Stoltenberg, says the alliance is not seeking a confrontation with Russia and does not want another cold war.

According to him, the planned deployment of 4,000 extra troops to Eastern Europe aims to prevent, not provoke conflict.

Mr Stoltenberg added that despite current tensions, the military alliance does not see Russia as a threat.

Currently, relations between the west and Russia are at their lowest point since the cold war.

The U.S. and European Union imposed sanctions on Russia following its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.

The war in Syria has also been a flash point for tensions, with key western powers accusing Russia of war crimes in its bombardment of opposition-held areas in support of the Syrian government.

Nato Wades Into Aegean Migrant Crisis

NatoPeople-smugglers taking migrants from Turkey to Greece face strong opposition as Nato ships are being deployed to the Aegean sea to deter their operations.

Nato Chief, Jens Stoltenberg, made the announcement following a request from Turkey, Germany and Greece at a Defence Ministers’ meeting in Brussels.

Mr Stoltenberg said that the mission would not be about stopping or pushing back refugee boats.

He added that the decision would contribute critical information and surveillance to help counter human trafficking.

Earlier, US Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, had said that targeting the criminal syndicate that was exploiting poor people would have the greatest humanitarian impact.

The decision was reportedly made to help Turkey and Greece manage a human tragedy in a better way.

NATO Renews Pledge To Defend Allies

natoNATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, says the organisation’s Defence Ministers are determined to boost response forces to be able to deploy troops speedily to defend allies, while it figures out a proper response to Russia’s presence in Syria.

Russia has been conducting airstrikes in Syria, supposedly on the Islamic State (IS) militants, and recently began launching rocket strikes on targets.

Mr. Stoltenberg disclosed that Russia’s involvement has not been helpful.

Russia on the other hand, has denied it has been targeting opponents of Bashar al-Assad. It says its strikes have hit infrastructure of the so-called IS and other militant groups.

The IS has been waging a war on the Syrian and Iraqi governments, in a bid to establish a caliphate.

Heavy fighting has been reported in areas of Idlib, Hama and Latakia provinces, where a coalition of rebels that includes the Nusra Front operates.

Turkish Airspace Violation: NATO Not Satisfied With Russia’s Claim

Turkish Airspace Violation: NATO Not Satisfied With Russia’s ClaimNATO has disputed the claim by the Russian government that one of its planes entered into Turkish airspace by mistake.

According to NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, Russia’s reason was not explanatory enough for the violation of Turkish airspace.

The Russian government had explained that the incident was due to bad weather, stating that its plane did not know when it entered into turkey, claiming it was an honest mistake.

Russia has been conducting airstrikes in Syria, claiming to be targeted at the Islamic State militants there.

Rights groups have denied this, noting that the strikes were targeted at the opposition rebel groups in Syria, thereby helping the government of President Bashar Al-Assad.

The US and other western countries are also suspecting that Russia is indeed helping the Syrian government and have called for an end to the airstrikes.

Syria Conflict: Turkey Scrambles F-16 Fighter jets

syria conflict: turkish jet intercept russias'Turkish Foreign Ministry has revealed the scrambling of F-16 fighter jets after a Russian warplane violated Turkey’s air space on Saturday.

The Russian fighter plane “exited Turkish airspace into Syria” after being intercepted.

The Turkish Foreign Minister spoke to his Russian counterpart, as well as Ministers from other NATO countries.

Russia has been carrying out air strikes in Syria in support of President Bashar Al-assad.

The Russian air campaign began on Wednesday with Moscow insisting it was targeting Islamic State (ISIS) positions. But Syrian activists said that Russian planes have also targeted other Syrian groups opposed to President Assad.

Turkey’s Military said that they did not know the nationality of the plane which its jets patrolling the Syrian border encountered on Sunday.

On Monday, Russia said it had “continued performing pinpoint strikes” on ISIS targets in Syria, carrying out 25 sorties and hitting nine ISIS targets.

Among those targets was a Communications Centre in Homs and a Command Centre in Latakia, it said.

NATO said that its Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, would meet the Turkish Foreign Minister at the organisation’s headquarters in Brussels later on Monday.