Nato defence pledge: Why has Donald Trump had such a stormy relationship with the alliance and what is Article 5?



Donald Trump is set to meet with Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg at the White House, having regularly disparaged the military alliance in the past.

The pair come together in the aftermath of the US President’s decision to relocate its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thereby recognising it as the country’s capital. 

The move prompted anger among Palestinians. At least 60 protesters were killed and as many as 2,700 injured in clashes with Israel Defence Forces in Gaza.

The Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal has also been met an angry response. The American flag was burned in the country’s parliament, while chaos still reigns in Syria.

The slow thawing of relations between North and South Korea is presently one of the few bright spots on the world stage.

The future of the US’s relationship with Nato – an alliance it entered under Harry Truman in 1949 – has been a cause for concern since President Trump succeeded Barack Obama.

On the campaign trail, he suggested the alliance had been “obsolete” since the close of the Cold War and told The New York Times in March 2016 that other member states were failing to honour an agreed guideline of spending two percent of gross domestic product on defence. 

He told the same newspaper four months later, that the US’s commitment to Article 5 – the promise all 28-member states make to come to the aid of a fellow ally under military attack – was conditional. America would support its allies “if they fulfil their obligations to us”.

That pledge was honoured after the 9/11 terror attacks on the US by al-Qaeda in 2001 as Nato member states deployed troops to Afghanistan.

They now fear that a US failure to respond in kind under President Trump could embolden Russia to carry out further aggressions on its borders like the widely condemned annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Mr Trump neglected to pledge the oath while addressing Nato at the opening of its new eco-friendly headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on 25 May last year, an occasion when a 9/11 memorial was also being unveiled.

The key paragraph, known as Article 5, was included in a script prepared by the president’s speech writers, but he simply skipped over it at the podium, apparently an impromptu decision.

His then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer subsequently insisted that it was “silly” and “laughable” that the president should actually have to reaffirm his commitment when his very presence there implied it. National Security Adviser, HR McMaster, who has also since left office, likewise insisted that “of course” the president supports Article 5 and the American endorsement had been “implicit” in the speech.

President Trump did finally explicitly back Article 5 in the Polish capital of Warsaw, last July.

“To those who would criticise our tough stance, I would point out that the United States has demonstrated – not merely with its words but with its actions – that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defence commitment, ” he said.

“Words are easy, but actions are what matters. And for its own protection, Europe – and you know this, everybody knows this, everybody has to know this – Europe must do more.”

Mr Trump biggest gripe with Nato appears to be its supposed financial failings, which he regards as a “bad deal”, an issue he took the member states to task over in that same Brussels speech last spring.

“I have been very very direct with Secretary Stoltenberg and members of the alliance in saying Nato members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations. But 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defence.

“This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States and many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years. And not paying in those past years.”

Mr Trump repeated the charge in April when he told German chancellor Angela Merkel it was “essential” that her country pay more towards Nato’s security chest, as she urged him to uphold the Iran nuclear accord.

Despite this – and his winning the White House on an “America First” platform – US defence investment in Eastern Europe, for one, has actually tripled since Mr Trump took office, according to Tomas Valasek, Slovakia’s former ambassador to Nato.

“His heart is not into alliance. He has a zero-sum view of the world. He believes in no permanent friendships, no permanent allies,” Mr Vasalek told NPR, adding: “That’s not the sort of mindset that prepares him well for sort of standing by the side of an ally in case of a crisis.”

Nato, for its part, has been criticised for applauding American military strikes against the Bashar al-Assad regime in response to the use of chemical weapons against civilians last month and for its relative silence on the situation in Gaza as going too far to appease and appeal to the truculent president.




www.independent.co.uk


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