The Brief – Behind NATO’s security scenes

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

As leaks and bits of information only selectively seep through NATO’s meeting room doors, it is the gestures and details that matter and shape the legacy of its summits.

It could have been a decent birthday feast after seventy years, but instead, NATO is facing a slightly overdue midlife crisis.

The squabbling over burden-sharing and strategic choices has revealed a lack of certainty in the system and the institution itself – quite insecure for a global security alliance.

And security operations at NATO summits usually tend to be – as one would expect – rather unprecedented.

Beyond the annoying disruption for all living creatures in the (un)-lucky host city, lessons learned for first-time reporters [like the writer of these lines] include the assessment that for security folk, a tripod wrapped in a cover looks suspiciously like a potential bazooka – and wearing it over the shoulder hardly improves that impression.

The venue – a golf resort in Watford, just outside London – was security-wise a wise idea indeed. It is far away from potential external disruptions, leaving all the room for internal ones.

Some of the hacks wondered whether the person choosing the location might have hoped that the nearby Harry Potter film studios would work some magic and appease NATO leaders, caught up in an internal family feud for weeks. Or maybe, just maybe, the proximity of a golf course was the best chance to keep some happy…

So, all the fuss for a working session of only three hours, you might ask?

Not quite. Some of Wednesday’s summit drama began well before the bagpipes played and the NATO leaders set out for the official family portrait, with wars of words in press conferences and backdoor politicking in pubs and hotel bars already behind them.

Certain details might have seemed quite peculiar: Trump keeping his host Boris Johnson standing in the cold for more than five minutes, a pat on troublemaker Erdogan’s shoulder or a leaked recording of NATO leaders gossiping about one of their rather less conventional allies.

Sometimes, even a light-hearted joke revealed more of the mood than a press conference would have.

Because details do matter: in 2018, it took only one rude shove by Trump against Montenegrin PM Dusko Markovic to trigger a debate about whether alliance members are really truly equal.

Compared to that encounter, the French President’s Emmanuel Macron’s “brain death“ comments were a smart bomb hit.

The machine-gunning sound bites of the Macron-Trump spat just ahead of the summit provided enough fuel for defence hacks occupying the summit venues and running around in the desperate search of bad coffee and poor WIFI connections.

But what they eventually saw was the world of NATO suddenly turned on its head, so that even Trump, best known for his fierce attacks against allies who are not paying enough money into the alliance budget, felt compelled to emphasise how good and indispensable NATO is in order to defy Macron.

It is true, Macron did ask the right questions, but he would have been well-advised not to single-handedly answer them on behalf of his fellow allies.

In recent months, it has become clear that the family members need to talk.

And no matter how short the time was for quality debate in London, one can be quite sure that Macron will not get tired of it any time soon. Throwing a bit of a tantrum worked for him for the second time and he once more got what he wanted – a “forward-looking reflection process” about NATO’s future.

And after the talks ended in considerable agreement, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, ever the tireless mediator, drew the metaphor of the Musketeers protecting  king in a “we stand one for all and all for one”-fashion.

Because at the core lies the question of whether NATO is working as intended and whether it can continue in its current form.

In that sense, one can say that the old alliance, as we know it, might be very well dead. But Macron’s picture is distorted: the patient still has brain functions but is in a rather depressed phase. NATO members badly need to decide how to heal the cracks on the institution’s soul.

The Roundup

The new European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, did not mince her words at her first press conference on Wednesday (4 December), criticising a recent proposal of the Finnish EU Presidency for the bloc’s 2021-2027 budget and voicing concern “about the severe cuts in the proposal”.

The European Commission is set to vote on Friday (6 November) on not renewing the approval of two pesticides, chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos-methyl, which the EU’s food safety agency says may have serious effects on foetuses and children – a claim industry strongly rejects.

The Greek government is open to the idea of further Chinese investment into a range of public and private sectors, including in the field of telecommunications, the country’s digital minister Kyriakos Pierrakakis, told EURACTIV on Tuesday, in comments likely to ruffle some feathers across the Atlantic.

While visiting Paris, American economist Jeremy Rifkin talked to EURACTIV France about his hopes for the new European Commission’s Green Deal, while calling for a climate narrative that inspires real change across society.

Policies aimed at integrating environmental and climate concerns into Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy have not delivered, according to a report released by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Three Ukrainian opposition factions have proposed their red lines, including the return of Crimea to Ukraine’s full control, ahead of a four-way Normandy-type summit to be held on in Paris on Monday

Look out for…

COP25 continues in Madrid, EU Space Week in Helsinki.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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