State Department correspondent Cindy Saine and VOA Russian service reporter Valeria Jegisman contributed to this report
WHITE HOUSE — North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is set to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress Wednesday, ahead of a meeting in Washington of the alliance’s foreign ministers.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell invited the NATO leader to speak to members of the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate to show the bipartisan support the 70-year-old trans-Atlantic alliance enjoys among lawmakers in spite of President Donald Trump’s occasional criticisms of the alliance.
As foreign ministers of NATO gather in Washington, foreign policy analysts are emphasizing it is one of the most successful military alliances in history and still relevant, pointing to its ability to adapt in dealing with a resurgent Russia, managing the crisis on the south of NATO’s flank and new, increasing threats such as cybersecurity.
“NATO is adapting and allies are spending more on defense. And I think this administration is understanding more and more how critical NATO is to some of the challenges that it faces, including China,” Mark Simakovsky of the Atlantic Council tells VOA. “So, in many ways, NATO is far from obsolete.”
Trump’s criticism that NATO members aren’t paying their fair share of defense spending, as well as political upheaval in Europe — including the impending British exit from the European Union — and calls by some to kick Turkey out of NATO, can leave the impression, however, that the defense alliance is fracturing.
“I don’t think that’s the case. The alliance is strong,” Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik tells VOA, pointing to increased political dialogues and military exercises among NATO’s members, as well as more U.S. military equipment and troops being brought to Europe.
“You’re not giving the money to somebody else. You’re not putting it into a NATO budget somewhere, you’re spending it on yourselves,” says McCain Institute Director Kurt Volker, who formerly served as U.S. ambassador to NATO. “But it is a demonstration of your commitment to your own security, which then gives NATO the confidence that this is a country that we can help defend as well, because they are committed to defense of their own territory.”
Lack of trust
Others agree that defense spending is important, but they say the alliance is fundamentally about the members’ ability to trust each other, and Trump has damaged that trust.
“When an American president questions the value of the alliance, our enemies in Moscow and Beijing are now questioning whether or not NATO would come to the defense of some smaller NATO nations that the president has criticized as maybe not worthy of NATO’s defense,” says Simakovsky, a former Europe/NATO chief of staff in the policy office of the U.S. secretary of defense. “But I don’t think at this summit the administration is going to be announcing any departure of the United States.”
Brooking Institution’s Robert Kagan is expressing concern that Trump’s attitude toward the European Union and expressed hostility toward the defense alliance could bring more chaos to the continent.
“Think of Europe today as an unexploded bomb, its detonator intact and functional, its explosives still live. If this is an apt analogy, then Trump is a child with a hammer, gleefully and heedlessly pounding away. What could go wrong?” writes Kagan in an upcoming issue of Foreign Affairs.