NATO and the European Union are moving forward on deepening cooperation, the alliance’s chief said Tuesday, as US President-elect Donald Trump insists European allies start pulling their own military weight. Preparing to chair a meeting in Brussels of the 28-nation military alliance’s foreign ministers, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that “we have a momentum now.”
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He said NATO and the EU would endorse later Tuesday 40 proposals for boosting cooperation on cyber security and hybrid threats, operations at sea and helping neighboring countries better defend themselves. Stoltenberg said “questions have been asked with respect to the strength of the trans-Atlantic bond” and that the best way to respond is to boost NATO-EU cooperation.
Trump lambasted Europeans during the US campaign for not paying their fair share of defense budgets and wants NATO to do more to combat terrorism. Fewer than half a dozen of NATO’s 22 EU allies spend the target 2 percent of gross domestic product annually on defense. By far NATO’s biggest funder, the US has for years demanded that its partners spend more, but Trump’s heated and unpredictable rhetoric has unsettled many allies. They are also wary of Trump’s uncritical view of Vladimir Putin even as the Russian president makes more assertive use of his armed forces in Europe. US Secretary of State John Kerry, appearing at his last NATO ministerial meeting, said that “unity is very, very important.”
“We need to come together, to make sure there is a strong Europe, a strong NATO and that the values and the interests that we all share, we are continuing to work on together,” Kerry told reporters. The two-day meeting in Brussels is aimed in part at reassuring the incoming US administration that European allies are spending more and that the world’s biggest military alliance is already doing plenty to combat terrorism.
Indeed, some allies are waiting for Trump to spell out exactly what more he believes they can do. Part of Tuesday’s talks will focus on NATO’s effort to help bring stability to Iraq and Syria. A NATO early warning radar aircraft is helping to improve air safety in war plane-filled skies over Syria. The alliance has also been training military officers from conflict-torn Iraq, and plans to start doing it in Iraq from next month.
Despite 22 common members, NATO-EU cooperation has been hindered by different visions over which organization should have primacy in defense matters and by a long-standing dispute between NATO member Turkey and EU member Cyprus. Cyprus has routinely held up Turkey’s EU membership bid, although it isn’t alone in doing so. Meanwhile, Turkey has resisted attempts by the organizations to work more closely together. Among the 40 proposals to be endorsed, a quarter relate to countering hybrid threats like propaganda, political and economic interference, or disguising trained military personnel as militias, as Russia did in Ukraine.
Others relate to better coordinating the two organizations’ crisis response activities, and studying whether to conduct joint and coordinated military exercises. But they remain proposals and nothing concrete in terms of defense programs are on the table.