How they see us: Is NATO still strong at 70?
NATO got a snoozer of a party for its 70th birthday, said Der Spiegel (Germany). The anniversary of the mutual defense pact’s founding was celebrated in Washington last week not with a big summit of leaders from NATO’s 29 member nations—as happened on the 50th and 60th anniversaries—but with a mere gathering of foreign ministers. It was a mostly subdued affair, because the shindig was “overshadowed by disputes” within the organization. The Trump administration continued to pester Germany and other members to honor a pledge to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. Currently, only the U.K., Poland, Greece, and the three Baltic nations hit that target. The more serious altercation, though, was over Turkey’s recent purchase of a Russian S-400 anti-aircraft weapons system instead of a U.S.-made Patriot system. Turkey must choose between being a partner “in the most successful military alliance in history,” said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and “making reckless decisions that undermine our alliance.” Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay shot back that the U.S. must instead choose between being Turkey’s ally or a friend to “terrorists,” by which he meant Kurdish rebels in Syria.
It wasn’t all snippiness, said Daniel Friedrich Sturm in Die Welt (Germany). Trump may be no fan of NATO, but the U.S. Congress is, and when Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addressed a rare joint session of the House and Senate, he was welcomed with multiple “standing ovations and cheers.” He reminded listeners that NATO has only once invoked its mutual-defense commitment—“One for all and all for one,” as Stoltenberg put it—and that was after the 9/11 attacks. Since then, he said, more than 1,000 European and Canadian troops have died fighting alongside their American comrades in Afghanistan. As the NATO head explained, “It’s good to have friends.”
Still, NATO is showing its age, said Sylvie Kauffmann in Le Monde (France). Oh sure, “plastic surgery has worked wonders” over the decades, as the alliance expanded from its initial 12 members to include former Warsaw Pact countries, and retooled its mission from that of containing the Soviet bloc to battling global terrorist networks. But Trump has undermined the entire project, by repeatedly calling the pact “obsolete” and hinting that he might not protect its smaller members. The alliance is going through the motions—continuing to hold military exercises and even building a new base in Poland—but its “heart is no longer there.” That’s why it’s time to think about giving the graying NATO “a much-deserved retirement” and letting a new European Union army protect Europe, said Fabian Sommavilla in Der Standard (Austria). The EU’s members share many values and are tightly interlinked, so even those countries that are not in NATO—including Ireland, Austria, and Finland—might be moved to contribute to a pan-European army. Then we could all “stop relying on the U.S.” ■