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Ratas in Brussels: Trump wants a stronger NATO, leaders seemingly agree

Estonian and British Prime Ministers chat at the NATO summit, next to Donald Trump.
Estonian and British Prime Ministers chat at the NATO summit, next to Donald Trump. Source: Sipa/SCANPIX

Speaking before Estonian journalists at the NATO summit in Brussels, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas said that the message from US President Donald Trump in the discussions on Thursday was that defence expenditures must be raised faster than has been the case up to now.

"During the discussion on the partnership for Ukraine-Georgia, the topic of defence spending came up again,'' said Mr. Ratas.

''There was another working meeting later, where MR. Trump's message was that defence spending must be raised faster, and it cannot be that we will reach the goal in 11-12 years," he went on.

Mr. Ratas also said that the emergency meeting of leaders, called by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg before noon on Thursday, ended with an agreement in principle from all parties that defence spending needs to be raised at a more rapid rate.

According to Mr. Ratas, defence expenditures of NATO's European allies plus Canada have risen by US$33 billion since the Trump presidency commenced in January 2017.

Trump to pull the US out of NATO?

In answer to a question from the Baltic News Service regarding the truthfulness of reports published in the international media, and citing NATO officials, which said that Mr. Trump had threatened to pull the US out of NATO if its allies fail to increase defence spending rapidly enough, Mr. Ratas said that he was present at those meetings and the way he received it was that the message from Mr. Trump is that the US continues to be a strong ally.

"The US continues to be committed to NATO,'' Mr. Ratas said.

''Of course he [ie. Trump] raised the topic of defence spending on repeated occasions over the course of these last two days," he went on.

"He underscored on multiple occasions the 'topic' of 4%. He emphasised that in the future the level of agreement should be higher still,'' Mr. Ratas continued.

''Today the area of 2% is on the table more topically," said Mr. Ratas, referring to the base level figure of GDP which NATO members are supposed to contribute to the alliance.

Estonian Defence and Foreign Ministers' views

The Estonian Minister of Defence, Jüri Luik (Pro Patria), added that Mr. Trump was asked the same question at the ensuing press conference and that it was clear that this stance [ie. Of pulling the US out of NATO] was not in fact his attitude towards NATO.

Foreign Minister Sven Mikser also stressed that allegations to the effect that Trump threatened to "do his own thing" if the NATO allies failed to take their commitments seriously enough can in no way be interpreted in so dramatic a key.

"President Trump repeatedly said at the press conference that NATO is stronger than it was two days ago, which expresses the US attitude extremely strongly," Mr. Mikser said.

NATO leaders declaration reaffirms Article 5

The two day meeting in Brussels as a whole saw NATO heads of state and heads of government approve two joint declarations, in which they reaffirmed the endurance and unbreakable nature of the transatlantic bond, reiterated the validity of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty which inaugurated the fundamental principle of collective defence, ie. an attack on one is an attack on all, and accused Russia of challenging this rules-based international order.

Even though President Trump was highly critical of some key European allies and their defence spending levels at the Brussels summit itself, as well as comments made prior to it, the new so-called Brussels declaration garnered the signatures of all 29 heads of state and heads of government present.

Wording of the declaration

The declaration states that:

"We face a prolonged period of instability. Russia is challenging the rules-based international order by destabilising Ukraine, including through the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea; it is violating international law, conducting provocative military activities, and attempting to undermine our institutions and sow disunity,"

"NATO guarantees the security of our territory and populations, our freedom, and the values we share - including democracy, individual liberty, human rights and the rule of law. Our Alliance embodies the enduring and unbreakable transatlantic bond between Europe and North America to stand together against threats and challenges from any direction."

This, the declaration goes on to say, "includes the bedrock commitment to collective defence set out in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. NATO will continue to strive for peace, security and stability in the whole of the Euro-Atlantic area, in accordance with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter."

Other threats, responsibilities and progress

The joint statement also makes mention of a multitude of threats, such as terrorism, emanating from NATO's southern periphery.

The declaration further states that NATO members are to share fairly the responsibilities of defending each other. 

"Real progress has been made across NATO since our last Summit in Warsaw, with more funding by all Allies for defence, more investment in capabilities, and more forces in operation.  But even if we have turned a corner, we need to do more, and there will be further progress. We are committed to the Defence Investment Pledge agreed in 2014, and we will report annually on national plans to meet this pledge," the declaration continues.

Combined capabilities

The joint declaration also emphasises that NATO's deterrence and defence is based on an appropriate mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defence capabilities, which the alliance continues to adapt. 

"We will increase the readiness of our forces and improve our ability to reinforce each other within Europe and across the Atlantic," the declaration reads.

"As part of that, we have agreed an adapted and strengthened NATO Command Structure. We are also further reinforcing the cyber defence capabilities of Allies and of NATO itself,"  it goes on.

"NATO poses no threat to any country. All these measures are defensive, proportionate and transparent, and within NATO's legal and political commitments. We remain fully committed to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation," the declaration states. 

Open to dialogue with Russia

The heads of state and of government declared that NATO however remains ready for a meaningful dialogue with Russia to communicate clearly its positions and, as a first priority, to minimise risk from military incidents, including through reciprocal measures of transparency. 

"The alliance continues to aspire to a constructive relationship with Russia, when Russia's actions make that possible,"   the declaration went on.

"The NATO-EU strategic partnership is essential for the security and prosperity of our nations and of the Euro-Atlantic area. The European and North American allies contribute significantly to European security and defence. We recognize that a stronger and more capable European defence will lead to a stronger NATO," it continues.  

Future members and cooperation

The leaders present also declared that NATO is committed to its open door policy for future members, and has decided to invite the government in Skopje, Macedonia, to begin accession talks aimed at joining the alliance once the terms of the agreement are met. 

NATO is strengthening its capacity to prepare against, deter and respond to hybrid threats. It is also boosting its contribution to the international fight against terrorism, according to the declaration. 

"We will also boost NATO's cooperation with Finland and Sweden [currently not NATO members-ed-.] in the Baltic Sea region, as well as with our partners in the Black Sea, Western Balkans and Mediterranean regions, each of which is important to Alliance security. We are maintaining our important operation in Kosovo. And while remaining a transatlantic Alliance, NATO will retain its global perspective,"  the declaration also said.

Donald Trump himself was set to go on from Brussels to the UK, on Thursday afternoon, for a two-day working visit including meetings with the Queen and Prime Minister Theresa May, the latter having already been present at the NATO summit.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: BNS

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