“We have now recognized that the rise of China has security implications for all allies”: NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg
DESPARDES — US President Donald Trump launched a blistering attack on France’s criticism of NATO strategy as “brain dead” on Tuesday, but French leader Emmanuel Macron doubled down and turned his fire on Turkey.
The three-way battle overshadowed the build-up to the alliance’s 70th anniversary 2-day summit at Buckingham Palace in London, threatening to derail efforts to show unity in the face of Russia and China.
Member states are confronted with Turkey’s attack on U.S.-allied Kurds in northern Syria and its purchase of a Russian weapons system, as well as skepticism toward the NATO project itself from U.S. President Donald Trump.
Macron had tried to shake up the agenda of the meeting by demanding a review of NATO strategy, but Trump — who arrived boasting that he had forced members to boost defense spending — hit back hard.
“I think that’s very insulting,” Trump said of Macron’s assertion last month that NATO’s is experiencing “brain death” and should focus more on Islamist terrorists and on re-opening a strategic dialogue with Russia, branding it a “very, very nasty statement”.
“Nobody needs NATO more than France,” he warned. “It’s a very dangerous statement for them to make.”
Trump later softened his tone at a joint appearance with Macron, but the French leader stood by his statement, going on to lay the groundwork for a difficult meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by accusing Turkey of working with extremists in Syria.
“My statement created reaction from a lot of people. I stand by it,” Macron said, just ahead of a one-to-one meeting with Trump.
“The common enemy today are the terrorist groups, as we mentioned, and I’m sorry to say that we don’t have the same definition of terrorism around the table,” Macron said, noting that Turkey has attacked the Kurdish militia that backed the allies against the Islamic State.
“When I look at Turkey they now are fighting against those who fight with us, and fought with us shoulder-to-shoulder against ISIS. And sometimes they work with ISIS proxies. This is an issue,” he declared, shortly before he was due to meet an already furious Erdogan.
Erdogan has threatened to hold up NATO efforts to beef up the protection of the Baltic republics against Russia, unless the other allies declare the Kurdish militias who fought with US and French forces against ISIS in northeast Syria “terrorists”.
Macron has complained NATO talks too much about money and not enough about strategic priorities.
Only nine of NATO’s 29 members spend two percent of their GDP on defense.
Trump cited in particular Germany as falling short, spending only 1.2 percent.
Trump’s repeated claims that the other members don’t spend enough on NATO collective defense—could be placated by a pledge from Europe, Canada, and Turkey to contribute $400 billion by 2024, according to Foreign Policy.
Leaders of the 29 allies are descending on London to lock horns over spending and strategic direction in a major test of unity as NATO seeks to assert its relevance.
If the Macron comments set an angry tone for the meeting, there are also expected to be clashes with Erdogan, who has described the French leader as “in a state of brain death”.
Macron and Erdogan will come face to face on Tuesday in a four-way meeting with Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose spokesman said he would be emphasizing the need for NATO unity.
The meet comes amid reports that NATO has mooted a plan to bolster the defenses of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia against a potential attack from Russia, though details remain unclear.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was open to cooperation with NATO against joint threats such as terrorism, reported AFP.
The substance of the summit is thin, with only one three-hour session planned, where leaders are expected to sign off on a set of decisions already taken by NATO foreign and defense ministers.
These include making space a full domain of conflict — alongside land, sea, air and cyber space — as well as a new report on how the alliance should approach China and its growing international assertiveness.
“We have now recognized that the rise of China has security implications for all allies,” NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said.
With input from Agencies