NATO ill-equipped to defend members: Dutch advisory council

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg gestures as he addresses a press conference during the second day of a defence ministers meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on November 9, 2017. (AFP / JOHN THYS)
Updated 10 November 2017
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NATO ill-equipped to defend members: Dutch advisory council

THE HAGUE: NATO is poorly equipped to defend members against aggression amid uncertainty over its unity under US President Donald Trump, which could allow Russia to exploit vulnerabilities, a Dutch advisory body warned Friday.
“It is becoming doubtful whether NATO will act responsibly and unanimously when it comes to it. There is internal division in an increasing number of areas,” said Joris Voorhoeve, chairman of the Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV).
“Uncertainty about the political leadership of the United States under President Trump is accompanied by concerns about the alliance’s unity,” he added.
The warning comes in a report issued Friday by the independent body which advises the Dutch foreign ministry and the government on policy.
“NATO is insufficiently equipped for its core task: protecting members against aggression via a credible deterrent and collective defense,” the AIV said in a statement.
But NATO hit back, insisting it is “the strongest alliance in the world — with 2.5 million men and women under arms and available to come to the defense of any NATO member.”
“The commitment of the United States to NATO is beyond doubt,” NATO deputy spokesman Piers Cazalet added in an email to AFP.
The Dutch body called on the 29-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), set up in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II, to strengthen internal cohesion and work to improve transatlantic relations as “the United States remains indispensable for Europe’s security.”
From the founding of the alliance the US has been its “political and military backbone,” but since Trump took office in January there has been “a lack of leadership” by the Americans.
Europe’s safety is under threat from “destabilizing actions by Russia” and from the current instability in the Middle East, it concludes.
Regions such as the Baltics are currently “not well protected (and) an assertive Russia could seek to abuse this situation,” the report, entitled “The future of NATO and the Security of Europe,” warned.
It recommends that military units on the alliance’s eastern flank in countries such as Lithuania and Poland “should be significantly strengthened” and NATO should consider deploying some kind of rotating brigade.
It also calls for the lifting of bureaucratic obstacles to allow military units and equipment to move more rapidly across borders if needed, by establishing what it called a “military Schengen” — a reference to the EU’s 26-nation borderless system.
But NATO deputy spokesman Cazalet refuted the idea that Baltic nations were vulnerable.
“Our Baltic allies are not just protected by their national forces and NATO’s multinational battlegroups, but by the sum total of Allied armed forces,” he said.
“In response to a more challenging security environment, NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcement of its defense since the end of the Cold War,” he added, highlighting that four multinational battle groups have been deployed to the east.
He also stressed that the NATO response force has been tripled “with a new 5,000-strong quick reaction force at its core, capable of moving in days.”
Concerns, however, have grown about the threat to the alliance’s eastern region since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Nato is currently upgrading capabilities to combat a resurgent Russia, as part of the alliance’s biggest shakeup since the Cold War, with defense ministers on Wednesday backing the creation of two new command centers to help protect Europe.


Pope invites Mideast religious leaders to Italy for peace summit

Updated 31 min 56 sec ago
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Pope invites Mideast religious leaders to Italy for peace summit

VATICAN CIT: Pope Francis has invited leaders of all Christian denominations in the Middle East to join him in Italy in July to discuss how they can help bring peace to the region, the Vatican said on Wednesday.
The meeting will take place on July 7 in the southern Adriatic port city of Bari, chosen because it is home to the relics of St. Nicholas, a figure venerated in both the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity.
Nicholas, who lived about 1,700 years ago in what is today Turkey, is particularly honored by Christian Orthodox Churches in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon in the Middle East.
Nicholas is also widely venerated among Orthodox Christians in Russia, which is Syria’s ally in the civil war.
The Vatican said the encounter would be an “ecumenical meeting for peace” where the religious leaders would discuss “the dramatic situation of the Middle East that afflicts so many brothers and sisters in the faith.”