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NATO Chief Worried About Fissures Between United States and Europe

In an interview with Foreign Policy, Jens Stoltenberg cautioned against a new arms race with Russia.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, listens as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C. on May 17, 2018. (Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images)
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, listens as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C. on May 17, 2018. (Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images)

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during a visit to Washington this week he is worried about the significant gaps between the United States and Europe on some of the world’s most important issues, from climate change to America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement.

His comments, in an interview with Foreign Policy, were the latest in a series of remarks by European officials highlighting the rift between Brussels and Washington under the presidency of Donald Trump.

“There are serious differences on serious issues, as we now see on trade, the Iran nuclear deal, climate, and also in other areas,” Stoltenberg said.

“Of course, when I see those differences, that’s something that concerns me.”

He said the two sides would get past their differences in part because they had a common agenda to confront Russia’s aggressive policies in Eastern Europe. And he cited previous disputes that strained but didn’t break the alliance, including the 1956 Suez Crisis and the Iraq War of 2003.

“Yes, there are differences, but at the same time, we see that NATO is able to implement the biggest enforcement of collective defense since the end of the Cold War,” he said.

Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway, met with Trump at the White House this week. He has headed NATO since 2014.

Trump has criticised Europe’s NATO members for not contributing enough to fund the alliance. Fielding questions alongside Stoltenberg at the White House Thursday, Trump threatened to take unspecified measures against the culprits.

“They’ll be dealt with,” he said.

Just eight of NATO’s 29 members meet the alliance’s target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense: The United States, Britain, Greece, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. In total, 15 members have plans to reach the 2 percent target by 2024.

Stoltenberg agreed with Trump that more NATO members had to do their part. “We still have too many allies spending too little on defense,” he said.

Trump on Thursday singled out Germany — which says it won’t reach the 2 percent target by 2025 — as a country that “has not contributed what it should be contributing, and it’s a very big beneficiary.”

Stoltenberg, asked if he shared Trump’s disappointment, said in the interview: “I think it is also important to remember that burden-sharing in the alliance is part about cash, but it is also about capabilities and [nonmonetary] contributions.”

“Germany is an important ally when it comes to contributions to NATO missions and operations,” he said.

He pointed to Germany’s announcement that it would increase its presence in NATO’s mission in Afghanistan by 30 percent and to the fact it leads one of NATO’s battle groups in Lithuania aimed at deterring Russia.

Stoltenberg also highlighted an “increased Russian military presence all the way from the Bering Sea, the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, down to Mediterranean,” where Moscow has deployed its military to shore up Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

“For us it is important to find the right balance, because we don’t want a new Cold War. We don’t want a new arms race,” he said.

Earlier this week, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, issued an unusually harsh rebuke of Trump on Twitter.

“Looking at latest decisions of @realDonaldTrump someone could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies. But frankly, EU should be grateful. Thanks to him we got rid of all illusions. We realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm,” Tusk wrote.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

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