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Rhetoric aside, NATO's strategic logic remains sound

NATO heads of state pose for group photo outside summit in Brussels
NATO heads of state in Brussels at the 2018 NATO summit. Photo: Julien Mattia/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Transatlantic solidarity appeared strained on day one of the NATO summit, as leaders parried rhetorical blows from President Trump, including his charge that U.S. allies "owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back."

Trump criticized countries spending less than 2% of GDP on defense, before making an unexpected call to boost the figure to 4%. He also said Germany was "totally controlled" by Russia, denouncing a planned gas pipeline that would link the two countries and yet speaking little about the Russian threats across Europe.

Yes, but: There have been meaningful policy and security agreements that risk getting lost amid the rhetoric.

The details: The 29 leaders — including President Trump — agreed on a "30-30-30" readiness initiative that would shorten the time necessary to assemble a force of aircraft, warships and land battalions. They condemned Russia's annexation of Crimea as "illegal and illegitimate," and pledged not to recognize it — just before Trump's meeting with Putin in Helsinki next week. They made progress on counterterrorism and military mobility, and began to sort out NATO cooperation with the European Union.

The bottom line: For all the superficial battering the alliance may take, its underlying strategic logic remains sound. The transatlantic partners are likely to get through the present crisis as they have through ones before. In many ways, the alliance works. While the current friction is unwelcome and largely unnecessary, reports of NATO's death are greatly exaggerated.

Richard Fontaine is the president of the Center for a New American Security.

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