Last week’s NATO Defence Ministerial meeting was intense. In defiance of the ‘brain dead’ epithet Macron bestowed on the Alliance, it showed itself to be in good shape at its last meeting prior to the US presidential election.
New and old threats were discussed, with a particular focus on Russia and China. In an innovative move, aimed at countering the two countries' anti-satellite activities, NATO established a new Space Centre at Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany.
This, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg explained, will “help ensure that Allied activities in space are more coordinated, [and] missions and operations [...] supported from space, including communications and satellite imagery.”
During the debates, ‘traditional’ threats also emerged. Worried about the growing Russian arsenal of nuclear missiles, NATO’s allies took stock of their package of measures, which, Stoltenberg said, comprise “acquiring new air and missile defence systems [and] fifth-generation fighter aircraft.”
Ministers also discussed the need to protect undersea cables – the most important communication route between the US and Europe – from potential Russian attacks.
Another issue of concern for the allies is China. The country, increasingly under NATO’s lenses, “is investing aggressively in ports and airports” abroad, Stoltenberg said.
NATO’s “telecommunication networks remain vulnerable to attacks from the outside, and compromise from the inside,” he added, referring to the controversial 5G issue, adding that strengthening allies’ resilience will be a focus for the next NATO leaders meeting.
Burden-sharing – Trump’s principal j’accuse levelled against European allies – was on the table. The SecGen announced 2020 as the sixth consecutive year of growth (4.3%) for European-Canadian defence spending. “We expect this trend to continue”, Stoltenberg said – a relevant statement in COVID times. The US Secretary of Defence Mark T Esper welcomed the news.
According to a NATO document published ahead of the ministerial, 10 countries have reached the 2% GDP spending goal. However, 20 are still non-compliant, including Germany, Italy and Spain.
Allies also discussed current missions. While the withdrawal from Afghanistan, where Taliban attacks have intensified, remains “conditioned,” NATO decided to increase “significantly” its presence in Iraq.
In Greece and Turkey – two NATO members disagreeing over the Eastern Mediterranean – the Alliance obtained the annulment of some military exercises planned for the following week. However, Turkey seemed to breach its pledge mere hours later by announcing naval manoeuvres.
Caterina Tani in Brussels for MON