External threats, internal challenges loom as NATO holds 75th anniversary summit

WASHINGTON: As an important milestone for transatlantic security, President Joe Biden is hosting 38 leading delegations in the US capital this week for a historic summit to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of NATO.

Leaders of the 32 NATO member countries, joined for the first time by Sweden, as well as partners including Ukraine, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Australia and the EU, are converging in the city. It will also be attended by a large number of high-ranking officials, ministers of foreign affairs, ministers of defense and government officials from NATO partner countries from around the world.

The summit will commemorate the world’s most successful alliance, which was formed in 1949 during the early days of the Cold War and whose continued existence has defied skeptics for decades.

NATO’s importance was renewed and highlighted two and a half years ago by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which analysts say has fundamentally challenged the so-called rules-based international order, posing one of the most significant threats to transatlantic security in decades.

However, in addition to the assurances of its representatives, NATO faces uncertainty about its future. External threats contribute in part to this, but the primary concern stems from the internal turmoil that could follow if Nato skeptics such as Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Assembly, take power in 2024 and 2027.

Trump personifies the tension between European allies and the US that has been there since the beginning. As one observer put it: Americans looked like they were from Mars, Europeans from Venus.

Former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Doral, Florida on July 9, 2024. (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron recently said that the alliance “only works if the guarantor of last resort works as such. I would argue that we should reassess the reality of what NATO is in light of the commitment of the United States. In his opinion, the US is showing signs of “turning its back on us”, as demonstrated by the unexpected withdrawal of troops from northeastern Syria in October 2019, abandoning its Kurdish allies.

The official language of the Biden administration and NATO officials paints an image of an alliance that is, in the words of Ambassador Michael Carpenter, special assistant to the president, “bigger, stronger, better resourced and more united than ever.”

While the U.S. news media continues to focus on Biden’s fitness and ability to handle an event like NATO’s 75th anniversary, both the U.S. administration and NATO officials have been quick to sidestep questions about the president’s health.

According to the head of NATO, the “most urgent task” of the summit will be to support Ukraine. The Allies will introduce substantial new measures to help the war-torn country.

These include strengthening security assistance and training with a major command center in Germany; a financial pledge of $43 billion; other air defense systems and ammunition; and demonstrate support for Kyiv in its progress towards NATO membership.

“That does not make NATO a party to the conflict,” said Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general. “But it will strengthen Ukraine’s self-defense.”

He added: “Ukraine must win… it needs our continued support.”

Carpenter, a senior US diplomat, said: “Together, the Washington summit will send (Russian President Vladimir) Putin a strong signal that if he thinks he can survive a coalition of countries supporting Ukraine, he is wrong.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and foreign leaders lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin wall after a Victory Day military parade in central Moscow on May 9, 2024. (Sputnik/Pool/AFP)

NATO will use the summit to highlight significant investments in its own defense and deterrence capabilities.

In 2020, only nine NATO members spent at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense, a benchmark first set nearly a decade ago. Today, a record 23 NATO members are at or above the minimum level of 2 percent of GDP on defense spending.

“Since the beginning of Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014, NATO has fundamentally transformed,” Stoltenberg said.

“Defense spending by European allies and Canada has risen by 18 percent this year alone, the largest increase in decades. Allies take burden sharing seriously.

“Today we have 500,000 troops on high alert; for the first time battlegroups in the eastern part of the alliance; more cutting edge capabilities including fifth generation aircraft; and two highly committed new members, Finland and Sweden.”

What Ukraine also demonstrated, according to Stoltenberg, is the global security dimension of the alliance, with “Iran and North Korea (supporting) Russia’s war with drones and grenades” and “China supporting Russia’s war economy.” He added: “The closer the authoritarian actors align, the more important , to work closely with our friends in the Indo-Pacific.

The third goal of the summit is to deepen NATO’s global partnerships. For this purpose, Stoltenberg invited the leaders of Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea to Washington.

“Standing together with our partners against authoritarian actors helps maintain a rules-based international order,” he said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg holds a news conference during the 75th anniversary of the NATO summit in Washington, DC, July 10, 2024. (REUTERS)

Partnerships with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa will also be addressed in meetings and bilateral talks, including the NATO Cooperation Initiative in Istanbul, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and includes the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar; and the Mediterranean Dialogue, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary as a partnership forum to promote security and stability in the region, with participating countries including Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

Carpenter said: “On the Middle East, I’m sure there will be a range of discussions, including bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit, where that will happen.

“The Middle East is not a Euro-Atlantic territory, but it clearly interferes with the security of the Euro-Atlantic region. So what is happening now in the Middle East is of course of concern to all NATO leaders.”

The NATO-Istanbul Cooperation Initiative Regional Center in Kuwait City was inaugurated on January 23, 2017. (AFP)

Luke Coffey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, lamented the fact that neither the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative nor the Mediterranean Dialogue had been used to their full potential.

“I’m a little disappointed that NATO didn’t make a bigger deal out of the 20th anniversary of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (and) the 30th anniversary of the Mediterranean Dialogue, which covers more of NATO’s relationship with the Levant and North Africa. ” said Arab News.

“These are important milestones and both of these platforms have been useful in the past in enabling NATO to engage with the wider community in the region,” he added.

“It would be very good to hold a NATO meeting at the level of heads of state and government for the Istanbul cooperation initiative. I know it would be very difficult. Someone should have thought of this earlier. But let’s make a big deal out of this anniversary.

Spanish, German and Dutch soldiers take part in a NATO military exercise in Romania on May 14, 2024. (AFP)

“NATO should make it very clear to countries, especially in the Persian Gulf, that if you are not part of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, the door is open. Of course, no one is talking about NATO membership or anything like that. It’s funny, but adding new members to the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative would be a positive thing for the alliance in my opinion.

The NATO-MENA security overlap, according to Coffey, includes concerns such as the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of missiles and drones in Iran. He believes that NATO should cooperate more deeply with the countries of North Africa and the Middle East, starting with anti-missile and air defense.

“From a European point of view, many of the challenges that are in the Middle East will eventually find their way to Europe. So it is beneficial for Europe and NATO in particular to work with countries in the Middle East to help them solve their own security problems.


NUMBER 32 Members of the NATO military alliance.

7 Ranking of Canada in the amount of money spent on defense.

Share of 3.5% of US GDP spent on the military.

Coffey said Stoltenberg’s visit to Saudi Arabia last December was a step in the right direction “to possibly get (the Kingdom) into the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.”

“Saudi Arabia is the dominant power in the Arabian Peninsula and shares many of the same security challenges we have in NATO, such as the proliferation of ballistic missiles and drones and the Iranian threat,” he said.

“So it makes sense that NATO cooperates with Saudi Arabia whenever possible, and in NATO we have a platform to cooperate with countries like Saudi Arabia. Let’s involve Saudi Arabia in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

“If they want to. NATO also needs to be careful to make sure we move at the speed and comfort level of engaging the Gulf states. We shouldn’t try to impose anything on the region, but we should always make it clear that NATO is open to deeper cooperation , if there is a willingness.

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