NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg defended the transatlantic alliance’s “iron-clad” unity on Wednesday, even while President Donald Trump engaged in fresh spats with fellow NATO leaders.
Stoltenberg addressed journalists following a meeting of the North Atlantic Council at a country hotel north of London, and as the 70-year old alliance struggles with multiple internal divisions.
Recent months have seen cracks emerge in NATO over several issues, including Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria, proposed rapprochement with Russia, the military spending of nation states, and suggestions that the alliance is experiencing “brain death” thanks to internal divisions.
Stoltenberg’s resolute defense of what members have called “the most successful alliance in history” brought two turbulent days in London to a close.
Just a few hundred meters away at a bilateral press conference between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the president was branding Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “two-faced,” in response to a video seemingly showing Trudeau mocking Trump alongside several other NATO leaders.
Trump then announced he would cancel a scheduled press conference and leave the meeting early, suggesting the event was unnecessary “because we did so many over the past two days.”
The sudden departure was at odds with Stoltenberg’s message of unity, dynamism and progress. He told reporters that the council meeting produced a “very clear” consensus that “we stand together all for one and one for all.”
“Most of the time we agree and we reach common conclusions,” Stoltenberg said.
Stoltenberg noted that the alliance had delivered the NATO Readiness Initiative and secured a commitment from allies to provide an additional additional troops, aircraft and warships to NATO operations within 30 days.
The secretary general also said the alliance had made “unprecedented progress” on burden sharing, with Canada and European nations increasing military spending by $130 billion. The majority of NATO nations have not yet met the 2014 pledge to reach 2 percent of GDP spending on military investment by 2024, much to Trump’s chagrin.
The alliance also seemingly overcame Turkish threats to block an updated defense plan for the Baltic states and Poland.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested Ankara might stymie the proposal unless fellow NATO nations agreed that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG)—who Turkish forces are currently fighting in northeastern Syria—is a terrorist organization.
Nonetheless, Stoltenberg admitted that the alliance “must do more” as it marks its 70th year. “As the world changes, NATO will continue to change,” he told reporters.
Despite the very public spats between prominent NATO leaders, the secretary general said the council meeting ended amicably and with an air of shared purpose.
“We ended the meeting with applause,” he said, “demonstrating in a way, the unity of this alliance. Despite differences we are united around our core task to protect and defend each other.”
Photo: © Leon Neal/Getty Images/Getty Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO talks at a press conference while attending the NATO summit at the Grove Hotel on December 4, 2019 near London.