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Nato rolls out the red carpet, buffs its image for Trump

  • Published at 04:40 pm May 24th, 2017
Nato rolls out the red carpet, buffs its image for Trump

Nato is not only rolling out the red carpet for US President Donald Trump in Brussels Thursday, but the military alliance, which Trump has declared obsolete, has been busy repackaging its image and is ready to unveil a new headquarters worth $1.12 billion.

In recent months, member nations have strained to show they are ramping up defence spending as Trump has demanded. And while they agree with the chief of the alliance’s most powerful member that Nato can do more to fight terrorism, they say it can be achieved with more of the same; training and mentoring troops in Afghanistan, and equipping local forces in Iraq so they can better fight the Islamic State group themselves.

“They’ll only talk about what he cares about, so really he should come out of this meeting feeling as though Nato responds to him,” said Kristine Berzina, Nato analyst at the German Marshall Fund think tank. “At least that’s what they hope here.”

Indeed, as part of the repackaging to be announced during Trump’s 24-hour visit to the city he branded a “hellhole,” Nato is likely to agree to join the 68-nation international coalition fighting IS. The move is symbolically important, especially since the group claimed responsibility Tuesday for a deadly explosion at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. An anti-terror coordinator may also be named, but most changes will be cosmetic. “This is not about Nato engaging in any kind of combat operation” to fight extremists, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last week. The 28 member nations, plus soon-to-join Montenegro, will renew an old vow to move toward spending 2% of their gross domestic product on defence by 2024. Still, many are sceptical about this arbitrary bottom line that takes no account of effective military spending where it’s needed most. Germany would have to virtually double its military budget and spend more than Russia.

Putting some meat on the pledge, the leaders will agree to prepare action plans by the end of the year, plotting how to reach 2 percent over the next seven years, and show how they will use the money.

Only five members currently meet the target: Britain, Estonia, debt-laden Greece, Poland and the US, which spends more on defence than all the other allies combined.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, has purged around 11,000 military personnel from its armed forces since last July’s thwarted coup. Hundreds of western-educated senior officers were removed from posts at Nato, severely weakening the army.

Yet it’s a subject that is almost taboo at Nato headquarters; a national affair to be dealt with internally.

Tensions have also mounted between Erdogan and Merkel since Germany offered asylum to some of the officers. Belgium has publicly warned against any pro-Erdogan rallies during his visit.

Outside the heavily guarded security perimeter near the city’s airport and in downtown Brussels, peace groups have planned rallies of their own. But, with the Manchester bombing still fresh, Belgian authorities aren’t taking any chances. The country’s Crisis Centre says it’s carried out a careful security threat assessment.