NATO Summit 2019 – Day #1

NATO Engages town-hall event. [Alexandra Brzozowski]

EURACTIV gives you an insight into the big talking points at this year’s NATO Leader’s meeting in London. In case you missed it, here’s Day 1 in a nutshell.

Trump hits out at Macron, Macron hits out at Trump. As expected, it was tit for tat: US President Donald Trump weighed into the war of words on the state of NATO, wasting no time in hitting back at French President Emmanuel Macron’s “brain death” claims.

While Macron said he stands by his words, his remarks were ripped by Trump as “very insulting” to other members and that he was “surprised” by those remarks. “Nobody needs NATO more than France,” Trump said, adding that “frankly, the one that benefits the least is the United States.”

During a tense bilateral meeting afterwards, the two leaders discussed the Islamic State and eventually struck an overall conciliatory tone on the matter, with Macron saying there was a need within the alliance for a “strategic clarification” on how to deliver long-term peace in Europe.

Macron accused Turkish forces of sometimes working with fighters linked to the Islamic State group in its northern Syria operations. “When I look at Turkey, they now are fighting against those who fought with us. And sometimes they work with ISIS proxies,” Macron said.

Concerned Eastern Flank. Poland announced it hopes to sway the mood after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to reject military plans for Poland and the Baltic States if NATO allies did not recognise the Kurdish YPG militia, against which Ankara is fighting in northern Syria, as terrorists.

Defence ministers from Estonia and Lithuania were clear that they still see Moscow as “the external existential threat”. “If we are serious in our actions, if we are clear and concise in our messaging, then the threat is quite low,” Estonia’s Jüri Luik explained. “But if we are weak, if we are wobbly, then the threat can go up.”

Romania’s defence minister Nicolae Ciuca, meanwhile, warned that the Black Sea region, the other vital part of the Alliance’s eastern flank, needs to be accounted for as well, urging for a “coherent approach to the whole flank”. Georgian foreign minister David Zalkaliani agreed that the region must be one of importance for NATO because “without a secure Black Sea, there will be no security in the Euro Atlantic security space.”

Quartet confronts Turkey. A four-way meeting with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Britain’s Boris Johnson and France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed Syria, while touching upon Turkey’s operation targeting Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

On Syria, the leaders agreed that humanitarian access, including cross-border, must be ensured and that a UN needs assessment should form the basis for getting aid to those who require it in the north-east.

After the one-hour meeting, Merkel told reporters the talks were “productive and useful” and said she would be going “with a sense of optimism” into Wednesday’s NATO working session, despite differences between NATO members over its health.

According to a Downing Street spokesperson, the four leaders said they would “work to create the conditions for the safe, voluntary and sustainable return of refugees and that the fight must be continued against terrorism in all its forms”.

On Libya, they reiterated their support for Special envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salamé, to move forward a Libyan-owned political process, facilitated by the United Nations and supported by the Berlin Format.

China on their minds. In response to a question about China, NATO’s Secretary-General noted that NATO leaders will, for the first time, be discussing a collective response to Beijing’s rise as a world power.

“This is not about moving NATO into the South China Sea, but it’s about taking into account that China is coming closer to us—in the Arctic, in Africa, investing heavily in our infrastructure in Europe, in cyberspace,” Stoltenberg told an audience in London.

According to a draft communique, on Wednesday allies are set to recommit to mutual defence and, for the first time position themselves in response to China’s growing military force. Beijing’s growing influence offers “opportunities”, but also presents “challenges”, the draft declaration states. NATO would not classify China as a “new opponent”, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg assured.

Climate factor. What’s the link between security and climate change, you might ask? Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg argued that NATO needs to “give rise to a little bit more discussion on how important it is to stop climate change.”

According to Solberg, “NATO’s role is to make sure that they analyse the root causes for changes in security in different areas due to climate change” as climate change “makes people move, and…it creates new security threats in areas,” such as water scarcity, which is fuelling extremism in Mali and Burkina Faso as well as in the Middle East.

“The whole Middle East has a water problem for the future,” she explained, “and it will lead to more conflicts in these areas.” Climate change has eradicated approximately 80 percent of the African Sahel’s farmland, intensely affecting nations like Mali and Burkina Faso.

Future is “bright”. In response to Macron’s “brain death” comments, Canada and the Netherlands jointly called for a “fundamental rethink” of the NATO structure.

“I don’t think you survive 70 years as an alliance without regularly reflecting,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a forum before the NATO summit, sitting alongside his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte.

Both leaders threw their support behind a Franco-German proposal to reform the military alliance. Rutte added it would make sense to set up a proposed “wise persons” group of experts to consider how to reform the Alliance politically after splits between Turkey, France and the US have emerged.

Putin listens in. In Russia, one man was watching the development closely. Speaking at a meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, President Vladimir Putin once again said that NATO’s continued expansion posed a threat to Russia, adding that the alliance is pointless given the absence of a threat from Moscow after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. But despite tensions, Putin said he hoped that a shared interest in common security would prevail and added that Russia remained ready to cooperate.

Speaking meanwhile in London, Stoltenberg said that NATO could do more to seek dialogue with Russia and find ways to resurrect arms control after the death of the INF Treaty earlier this year in August.

State dinner blues. Family feud was largely avoided over dinner and Macron’s infamous comments were largely left aside, as one participant told EURACTIV over a coffee afterwards.

The Queen spent time at the reception speaking to female leaders, before mingling with the rest of the leaders and their wives.

For the Downing Street reception French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte got a lift in Trump’s “Beast”, the US President’s famous security vehicle, to a choir singing merry Christmas tunes.

But, as expected, Trump, who was responsible for disrupting summits before, was the talk of the day between some of the leaders.

Anti-Trump protest. As NATO leaders were dining with the Queen, protesters in front of the palace denounced Turkey’s President Erdogan for being a war criminal and made it clear that US President Trump is not welcome, at least not to them.

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