External threats, internal challenges loom as NATO holds 75th anniversary summit

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Updated 11 July 2024
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External threats, internal challenges loom as NATO holds 75th anniversary summit

External threats, internal challenges loom as NATO holds 75th anniversary summit
  • Event in Washington, D.C. runs from July 9 to 11 and is being attended by 32 world leaders and dozens of other officials
  • Main tasks for NATO members include support for Ukraine, investments in their own defense and deterrence capabilities

WASHINGTON:  In an important milestone of transatlantic security, President Biden Joe Biden is hosting 38 heads of delegation in the US capital this week for a historic summit to mark the 75th anniversary of NATO’s founding.

Converging on the city are the leaders of 32 NATO members, with Sweden joining for the first time, as well as partners including Ukraine, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Australia and the EU. Large numbers of senior officials, foreign ministers, defense ministers and cabinet officials from NATO partners around the world will also attend.

The summit will commemorate the world’s most successful alliance, established in 1949 during the early days of the Cold War, and whose enduring existence has defied skeptics for decades.

NATO’s significance was renewed and underscored two-and-a-half years ago by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which analysts say has profoundly challenged the so-called international rules-based order, posing one of the most significant threats to transatlantic security in decades.

But beyond its officials’ assurances, NATO faces uncertainty about its future. External threats contribute a part, yet the primary concern stems from internal turmoil that could follow if NATO skeptics, such as Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Rally, assume power in 2024 and 2027, respectively.

Trump personifies the tension between European allies and the US that was there from the beginning. As one observer put it: Americans seemed to be from Mars, Europeans from Venus.




Former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Doral, Florida, on July 9, 2024. (AFP)

French President Emmanuel Macron recently has said that the alliance “only works if the guarantor of last resort functions as such. I’d argue that we should reassess the reality of what NATO is in the light of the commitment of the United States.” The US, in his view, shows signs of “turning its back on us,” as it demonstrated with its unexpected troop withdrawal in October 2019 from northeastern Syria, abandoning its Kurdish allies.

The official language of the Biden administration and NATO officials project an image of an alliance that is — in the words of Ambassador Michael Carpenter, special assistant to the president — “larger, stronger, better resourced, and more united than ever before.”

While US news media continue to focus on Biden’s fitness and ability to handle an event like the 75th anniversary of NATO’s founding, both US administration and NATO officials have nimbly sidestepped questions regarding the president’s health.

The “most urgent task” at the summit, according to NATO’s chief, will be support to Ukraine. Allies will unveil substantial new measures to assist the war-ravaged country.

These include stepping up security assistance and training, with a large command center in Germany; a financial pledge of $43 billion; further air defense systems and ammunition; and showcasing backing for Kyiv as it progresses toward NATO membership.

“This will not make NATO a party to the conflict,” said Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary-general. “But it will enhance Ukraine’s self-defense.”

He added: “Ukraine must prevail … they need our sustained support.”

Carpenter, the senior US diplomat, said: “Together, the Washington summit will send a strong signal to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin that if he thinks he can outlast the coalition of countries supporting Ukraine, he is dead wrong.”




Russia's President Vladimir Putin and foreign leaders lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall after the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow on May 9, 2024. (Sputnik/Pool/AFP)

NATO will use the summit to highlight significant investments in its own defense and deterrence capabilities.

In 2020, only nine NATO members spent at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense, a benchmark first set almost a decade ago. Today, a record 23 NATO members are at, or above, the minimum level of 2 percent of GDP for defense spending.

“Since Russia’s aggression against Ukraine began in 2014, NATO has fundamentally transformed,” said Stoltenberg.

“Defense spending across European allies and Canada is up 18 percent this year alone, the biggest increase in decades. Allies are taking burden-sharing seriously.

“Today, we have 500,000 troops on high readiness; combat-ready battlegroups in the eastern part of the alliance for the first time; more high-end capabilities, including fifth-generation aircraft; and two highly committed new members, Finland and Sweden.”

 

 

What Ukraine has also demonstrated, according to Stoltenberg, is the global dimension of the alliance’s security, with “Iran and North Korea (fueling) Russia’s war with drones and shells,” and “China propping up Russia’s war economy.”He added: “The closer that authoritarian actors align, the more important it is that we work closely with our friends in the Indo-Pacific.”

Deepening NATO’s global partnerships is the third goal of the summit. For that purpose, Stoltenberg has invited leaders of Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea to Washington.

“Standing up to authoritarian actors with our partners helps to uphold the rules-based international order,” he said.




NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg holds a press conference during NATO's 75th anniversary summit in Washington, D.C., on July 10, 2024. (REUTERS)

Partnership with Middle East and North Africa countries will also be addressed in meetings and bilateral talks, including the NATO Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and includes UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar; and the Mediterranean Dialogue, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year as a partnership forum for promoting security and stability in the region, with participating countries including Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

Carpenter said: “When it comes to the Middle East, I’m sure there’s going to be a range of discussions, including bilateral meetings on the margins of the summit, where this will come up. 

“The Middle East is not Euro-Atlantic territory, but obviously it impinges on the security of the Euro-Atlantic region. So, what’s happening now in the Middle East is, of course, of concern to all NATO leaders.”




The NATO-Istanbul Cooperation Initiative Regional Center in Kuwait City, which was inaugurated on January 23,2017. (AFP)

Luke Coffey, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, lamented the fact that neither the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative nor the Mediterranean Dialogue have been used to their full potential.

“I’m a bit disappointed that NATO hasn’t made a bigger deal out of the 20th anniversary of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (and) the 30th anniversary of the Mediterranean dialogue, which covers more of NATO’s relations with the Levant and North Africa,” he told Arab News.

“These are important milestones, and both of these platforms have been useful in the past in allowing NATO to engage with the broader community in the region,” he added.

“It would be very good to hold a NATO meeting at the heads of state, heads of government level, for the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. I know it would be very difficult to do. Someone should have thought of this earlier. But let’s make a big deal out of this anniversary.




Spanish, German and Dutch soldiers take part in a NATO military exercise in Romania on May 14, 2024. (AFP)

“NATO should make it very clear to the countries, especially in the Gulf, that if you’re not part of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, the door is open. Nobody, of course, is talking about membership for NATO or anything like this. This is ridiculous, but adding new members to the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative would be a positive thing, I think, for the alliance.”

The NATO-MENA security overlap, according to Coffey, includes concerns such as counterterrorism, and Iran’s missile and drone proliferation. He believes NATO should collaborate more deeply with MENA nations, starting with missile and air defense.

“From a European point of view, often many of the challenges that are in the Middle East find their way into Europe over time. So, it benefits Europe, and especially NATO, to work with countries in the Middle East to help them address their own security concerns.”

INNUMBERS

INNUMBERS 32 Members of NATO military alliance.

7 Canada’s rank in amount of money spent on defense.

3.5% Share of US GDP spent on military.

Coffey said Stoltenberg’s visit to Saudi Arabia in December last year was a step in the right direction “that would maybe get (the Kingdom) inside the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

“Saudi Arabia is the dominant power on the Arabian Peninsula, and it shares many of the same security challenges that we have in NATO, such as, the proliferation of ballistic missiles and drones and the Iranian threat,” he said.

“So, it makes sense that NATO cooperates with Saudi Arabia whenever possible, and we have a platform in NATO to engage with countries like Saudi Arabia. So, let’s get Saudi Arabia inside of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

“If they want to. NATO also has to be careful to make sure that we go at the speed and the comfort level of engagement of the Gulf states. We shouldn’t try forcing anything onto the region, but we should always make clear that NATO is open for deeper cooperation if there’s a willingness.”
 

 


Halt Gaza war now, Trump tells Netanyahu

Halt Gaza war now, Trump tells Netanyahu
Updated 13 min 31 sec ago
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Halt Gaza war now, Trump tells Netanyahu

Halt Gaza war now, Trump tells Netanyahu

JEDDAH: Israeli forces killed at least 30 more Palestinians in Gaza on Thursday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks in Washington with the US president and vice president.

In Florida on Friday Netanyahu will meet Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who used a TV interview on Thursday to urge the Israeli leader to halt the war. “You have to end this fast. It can’t continue to go on like this. It’s too long. It’s too much,” Trump said.

Netanyahu took part in separate meetings at the White House with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the overwhelming favorite to be the Democratic nominee in November’s presidential election.

Biden has offered Netanyahu almost unlimited financial and military support in his war on Gaza, but the president has also been increasingly critical of Israel over the Palestinian death toll, and denounced restrictions on the amount of aid getting through to the enclave, much of which has been reduced to rubble.
In Gaza on Thursday at least 30 Palestinians were killed in airstrikes and shelling as Israeli forces pushed deeper into towns on the eastern side of Khan Younis and tanks advanced in central Rafah.

Fighting has centred on the eastern towns of Bani Suaila, Al-Zanna and Al-Karara. Strikes there killed 14 Palestinians, several were wounded by tank and aerial shelling, and an airstrike east of Khan Younis killed four people.
Israeli bombardment intensified in several areas in Rafah near the Egypt border as tanks operated north, west and in the town center. Deir Al-Balah, where tanks have not yet invaded, is currently crowded with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced from other areas of the enclave.


Gaza war protesters hold a ‘die-in’ near the White House as Netanyahu meets with Biden, Harris

Gaza war protesters hold a ‘die-in’ near the White House as Netanyahu meets with Biden, Harris
Updated 16 sec ago
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Gaza war protesters hold a ‘die-in’ near the White House as Netanyahu meets with Biden, Harris

Gaza war protesters hold a ‘die-in’ near the White House as Netanyahu meets with Biden, Harris
The protesters poured red liquid onto the street, saying it symbolized the blood of those killed in Gaza.
They chanted, “Arrest Netanyahu,” and brought in an effigy of Netanyahu with blood on its hands and wearing an orange jumpsuit

WASHINGTON: Protesters against the Gaza war held a “die-in” across from Lafayette Park and the White House on Thursday as President Joe Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The protesters poured red liquid onto the street, saying it symbolized the blood of those killed in Gaza. They chanted, “Arrest Netanyahu,” and brought in an effigy of Netanyahu with blood on its hands and wearing an orange jumpsuit. The jumpsuit reads, “Wanted for crimes against humanity.”
More than 39,000 people have died in Gaza since the start of the war in October. Dozens of Israeli hostages remain in Hamas captivity.
In an address to Congress on Wednesday, Netanyahu defended Israel’s conduct during the war, as thousands of demonstrators massed near the Capitol, marching through city streets carrying Palestinian flags and calling for Netanyahu’s arrest.
Outside Washington’s Union Station, protesters removed American flags and hoisted Palestinian ones in their place to massive cheers in the crowd. They sprayed graffiti on a monument to Christopher Columbus.
In a statement Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, spoke strongly about the protesters’ actions.
“Pro-Hamas graffiti and rhetoric is abhorrent, and we must not tolerate it in our nation,” she said. “I condemn the burning of the American flag. That flag is a symbol of our highest ideals as a nation and represents the promise of America. It should never be desecrated in that way.”
The number of protesters Thursday was significantly smaller than the day before.
Hazami Barmada, who described herself as a grassroots activist, spoke through a megaphone of Biden’s decision not to see reelection and to pass the baton to Harris.
“Biden did not voluntarily leave the race, Joe Biden was pushed out of the race,” she said. “And Kamala Harris still needs to prove her humanity” before earning the trust of pro-Palestinian voters.
“I’m not going to give you my vote until you show you share the ideals that the Democratic Party is supposed to believe in,” she said.
At one point, a young man with an Israeli flag draped over his shoulders walked into the middle of the protest circle and posed for the journalists’ cameras as the crowd jeered.
Police worked to keep the two sides apart.
As police led the man away — he wasn’t detained — Barmada shouted, “See, they even want to occupy our protests. Even our land isn’t enough!”
As police cleared the way, the protesters later marched through city streets toward the National Mall.

Prosecutors urge judge not to toss out Trump’s hush money conviction, pushing back on immunity claim

Prosecutors urge judge not to toss out Trump’s hush money conviction, pushing back on immunity claim
Updated 17 min 10 sec ago
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Prosecutors urge judge not to toss out Trump’s hush money conviction, pushing back on immunity claim

Prosecutors urge judge not to toss out Trump’s hush money conviction, pushing back on immunity claim
  • the high court’s opinion “has no bearing” on the hush money case: attorney’s office

NEW YORK: Prosecutors are urging a judge to uphold Donald Trump’s historic hush money conviction, arguing in court papers released Thursday that the verdict should stand despite the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on presidential immunity.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office said in a court filing that the high court’s opinion “has no bearing” on the hush money case and does not support vacating the jury’s unanimous verdict or dismissing the case.
Prosecutors said Trump’s lawyers failed to raise the immunity issue in a timely fashion and that, even so, the case involved unofficial acts — many pertaining to events prior to his election — that are not subject to immunity.
Lawyers for the former president and current Republican nominee are trying to get the verdict — and even the indictment — tossed out because of the Supreme Court’s July 1 decision. It gave presidents considerable protection from prosecution.
The ruling came about a month after a Manhattan jury found Trump guilty of falsifying business records to conceal a deal to pay off porn actor Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election. At the time, she was considering going public with a story of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump, who says no such thing happened. He has denied any wrongdoing.
He was a private citizen when his lawyer paid Daniels. But Trump was president when the attorney was reimbursed. Prosecutors say those repayments were misleadingly logged simply as legal expenses in Trump’s company records.
The attorney, Michael Cohen, testified that he and the then-president discussed the repayment arrangement in the Oval Office.
Trump’s lawyers have argued that prosecutors rushed to trial instead of waiting for the Supreme Court’s view on presidential immunity, and that the trial was “tainted” by evidence that shouldn’t have been allowed under the high court’s ruling.
Judge Juan M. Merchan plans to rule on the Trump attorneys’ request Sept. 6. He has set Trump’s sentencing for Sept. 18, “if such is still necessary” after he reaches his conclusions about immunity.


Thousands flee fast-spreading wildfire in northern California

Thousands flee fast-spreading wildfire in northern California
Updated 24 min 49 sec ago
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Thousands flee fast-spreading wildfire in northern California

Thousands flee fast-spreading wildfire in northern California
  • More than 3,500 people had evacuated the area, Governor Gavin Newsom said

LOS ANGELES: Firefighters were battling a fast-moving wildfire in the US state of California on Thursday, authorities said, with more than 3,500 people forced to flee their homes.
The Park Fire, enveloping more than 71,000 acres, broke out Wednesday evening, on the last day of a heat wave affecting the region.
More than 1,150 personnel were deployed to fight the blaze, which was only three percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).
As of 12:00 p.m. local time (1900 GMT) on Thursday, the fire had enveloped 71,489 acres (290 square kilometers), according to CalFire.
More than 3,500 people had evacuated the area, Governor Gavin Newsom said.
The town of Chico, under threat from the fire, is located just 12 miles (20 kilometers) west of Paradise, a town that was destroyed by a massive wildfire in 2018, resulting in the deaths of 85 people.
The cause of the Park Fire remains under investigation, according to CalFire.
On Thursday, the National Weather Service issued a “red flag” weather warning for “critical fire weather conditions” in the area, including wind gusts and low humidity.
The western United States has experienced several heat waves since the beginning of June, and dozens of fires are currently burning in the region.
Oregon, California’s northern neighbor, is battling a megafire that is the largest in the country, having ravaged more than 268,000 acres of forest and prompting evacuations in a rural region.
The raging flames have created vast columns of smoke, affecting air quality as far away as neighboring Idaho.
Wildfires were also burning in western Canada, where part of the tourist town of Jasper has been destroyed.
Western North America has increasingly been affected by extreme weather events, exacerbated by climate change.
In mid-July, Newsom warned of a fire season that was “shaping up to be very active.”


Argentine President Milei travels to France to meet Macron after outcry over racist soccer chants

Argentine President Milei travels to France to meet Macron after outcry over racist soccer chants
Updated 25 min 43 sec ago
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Argentine President Milei travels to France to meet Macron after outcry over racist soccer chants

Argentine President Milei travels to France to meet Macron after outcry over racist soccer chants
  • The Argentine presidency said that in addition to meeting Macron and other French officials at the Elysee Palace on Friday, Milei would attend the 2024 Olympic opening ceremony
  • Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the IMF, said she held “constructive” talks about Milei’s libertarian reforms with Argentine Economy Minister Luis Caputo

BUENOS AIRES: Argentine President Javier Milei arrived Thursday in Paris, his office said, where he is expected to meet French President Emmanuel Macron after tensions escalated between their countries over the Argentine soccer team’s derogatory post-match chants about French players.
A short clip captured during Argentina’s Copa America victory celebrations in Miami earlier this month shows triumphant Argentine players chanting a song considered racist toward French players of African heritage. “They play for France but their parents are from Angola,” the refrain goes, with some transphobic slurs mixed in.
French officials castigated the Argentina athletes in the Instagram live video posted by midfielder Enzo Fernandez, who publicly apologized. The French soccer federation filed a legal complaint over the “unacceptable racist and discriminatory remarks.” Fernandez’s English club Chelsea started an internal disciplinary procedure.
“Argentina is the enemy in France,” was a headline Thursday in Argentine newspaper Clarín, citing the deafening boos and jeers that greeted the Argentine national anthem in Paris.
Censure from the soccer world snowballed into a political scandal last week when Argentina’s conservative vice president, Victoria Villarruel, defended Fernandez and the team, saying that Argentina would not tolerate criticism from a “colonialist” country.
In a widely shared social media post, she insisted that Argentina was not a racist country because, unlike France, “We never had colonies or second-class citizens. We never imposed our way of life on anyone.”
“Enough with faking indignation, hypocrites,” she added.
French diplomats in Buenos Aires were seething.
President Milei, a right-wing populist, has sought to walk a fine line — nodding to the upswell of nationalism buoying the Argentina team while attempting to curb diplomatic backlash. Already, Milei’s rhetorical attacks on leaders and enthusiasm for the far-right have sparked diplomatic rows with Argentina’s historic allies and major foreign investors, Brazil and Spain.
Last week, Milei removed the undersecretary of sport, Julio Garro, from his post for requesting that team captain Lionel Messi apologize for the chants. “No government can tell the Argentine national team, world champion and two-time champion of Copa America, what to comment, what to think or what to do,” Milei’s office said at the time.
But more recently the presidential spokesperson, Manuel Adorni, has tried to distance Milei from what he called Villarruel’s “personal” and “unfortunate” comments.
He said that Karina Milei, the president’s sister and general secretary, took it upon herself to disavow Villarruel’s remarks in a meeting with the French ambassador last week.
“It’s a comment that does not represent the opinion of the government,” Adorni said of Villarruel’s post. “Relations with France are intact.”
But controversy has only mounted after chaos engulfed the Olympic men’s soccer match between Argentina and Morocco.
Doubling down on her nationalist messaging, Vice President Villarruel posted footage of Wednesday’s incident, showing Morocco fans invade the field and rain bottles and other objects down on Argentine players in an outpouring of anger over Argentina’s late goal.
“Although they insult us and whistle our anthem, Argentina is destined for greatness,” she wrote.
The Argentine presidency said that in addition to meeting Macron and other French officials at the Elysee Palace on Friday, Milei would attend the 2024 Olympic opening ceremony and hold talks with French business leaders.
The investment-focused meetings come as Argentina seeks to lobby for support from major shareholders of the International Monetary Fund, including France and the US, to reach a new deal for extra funds.
Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the IMF, said she held “constructive” talks about Milei’s libertarian reforms with Argentine Economy Minister Luis Caputo on Thursday in Rio de Janeiro, where G20 finance ministers were gathering.
As in previous months, Georgieva praised Argentina’s performance in fighting inflation and slashing the deficit, writing on X, “We are committed to support the govt’s efforts to turn around the economy for the benefit of Argentine people.”
But she said nothing about an imminent new loan for the crisis-stricken country.
Argentina — the IMF’s biggest debtor — needs more cash to pay the fund back for past borrowing under the program, originally worth $57 billion in 2018.
Analysts say that right-wing Milei is pinning his hopes on Donald Trump becoming president of the US, the IMF’s main stakeholder.
“The expectation of the government is that a Trump administration would be more politically favorable to Milei and that by early next year it would exert some pressure on the IMF,” said Marcelo J. García, Americas director at geopolitical risk firm Horizon Engage.