Leaders of some key members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on Tuesday continued to squabble over the alliance on the eve of its 70th birthday summit in London.
Differences in opinions and criticisms set the scene for Wednesday’s main session when leaders from 29 European and North American countries sit down together to debate NATO’s future plans.
France and the United States took the lead in verbal attacks surrounding the event amid London’s chilly air and a seeming absence of entente cordiale.
U.S. President Donald Trump publicly took issue with French President Emmanuel Macron for describing NATO as “brain dead.”
Macron said he stood by his original remarks, though he acknowledged Trump’s criticism that some NATO allies had not borne their fair shares of the financial cost of operating the pan-Atlantic defense alliance.
“President Macron said NATO was brain dead. I think that’s very insulting. I was very surprised,” Trump told a gathering of international journalists.
“It’s a tough statement, but when you make a statement like that, that was a very very nasty statement to make to 28 countries. You just can’t go around making statements like that about NATO. It’s very disrespectful,” he added.
The Daily Telegraph, a national newspaper based in London, said Trump and Macron had been throwing barbs around all week.
The Times said Trump also turned his scorn on other European partners, chiding Britain and Germany for not retrieving foreign fighters from Syria.
Trump’s criticism also targeted France’s neighbor Germany. “The United States is paying 4.3 percent of a much larger GDP. Germany is paying 1.3 percent of a much smaller GDP and that’s not fair,” he said.
NATO “still has many delinquents who have not paid up in full,” in reference to member states not chipping in the recommended “membership fee,” which Trump said should be raised to 4 percent.
The Times said said that Britain, as the host, had hoped the NATO meeting this week would take place without internal divisions in the alliance erupting into the open.
New challenges were being faced and there was a need to adapt, Britain’s Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in a keynote speech on Tuesday.
“NATO is now looking at the ways in which new and emerging technologies will continue to change the threat landscape, from hypersonic missiles, reducing our decision-making time in the face of an attack, to quantum computing, potentially rendering current encryption obsolete,” Wallace said.
“Maintaining our technological edge is the only way we can avoid obsolescence and deliver on our most important pledge — keeping our people safe,” he added.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg dismissed Tuesday the suggestion that NATO is suffering terminal decline. “NATO is active, NATO is agile, NATO is adapting,” Stoltenberg said. “We have just implemented the largest reinforcement of collective defense since the Cold War.”
The NATO family will move to Watford, north of London, on Wednesday to hold a summit meeting where a ring of steel and high security will be in place to guard the attendees, in the wake of a deadly terror attack near London Bridge last week.
“Most accept that this event will be far from the joyful 70th birthday party it was initially envisaged as,” the Times said in a commentary.