RPT: REVIEW - NATO Summit Resembled Major Face-Saving Exercise To Hide 70-Year-Old Alliance's Splits

BRUSSELS (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 06th December, 2019) The NATO Leaders Meeting has ended in London with a conciliatory final declaration, but a backlog of tensions and mutual personal shots failed to send the intended message of unity on the alliance's 70th anniversary.

NATO held its anniversary summit in its first home, London, from December 3-4.

The final "London Declaration" bravely announced that everything was fine in the "strongest and most successful Alliance in history" as it turned 70.

"Solidarity, unity, and cohesion are cornerstone principles of our Alliance ... We reaffirm the enduring transatlantic bond between Europe and North America, our adherence to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, and our solemn commitment as enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that an attack against one Ally shall be considered an attack against us all," the text read.

The summit came against the backdrop of deepening differences between NATO allies over uncoordinated US steps in Syria, Turkey's offensive against Kurds in the Arab republic and its purchase of Russia's S-400 missile defense systems.

The whole situation, arguably caused in the first place by the lack of the strong US leadership, has even prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to diagnose the "brain death" of the alliance.

Yet, in its final declaration, NATO showed solidarity in identifying main threats, saying that "Russia's aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security" and blaming Moscow for the collapse of the US-Soviet INF treaty.

But, if Russia is the arch threat, how can a NATO member and the alliance's second largest army, Turkey, buy advanced military equipment from it? The question has remained unanswered.

Moreover, Turkey wages a war against Kurdish militias in northern Syria, which does not please other members that consider the latter to be allies in the fight against the Islamic State terror group (banned in Russia). Will the other NATO members fly to the defense of their member that has been "attacked" by Kurdish militants designed as terrorists by Ankara? They will hardly do.

The cacophony, insults and quarrels therefore flew high in the run-up to and during the two-day summit in London.

'INSULTING:' MACRON, TRUMP, ERDOGAN EXCHANGE BARBS

Days before the summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan advised Macron to have his "own brain death checked out first."

US President Donald Trump similarly found Macron's comments about the alliance as "very, very bad, ... even insulting." He also claimed that "nobody needs NATO more than France."

At the summit itself, the US-French heated exchange expanded into trade when Trump harshly criticized Paris' willingness to tax American tech giants. He also reiterated his administration's threat to impose tariffs of up to 100 percent on $2.4 billion worth of French products including cheese, lipsticks, luxury bags, yogurt or champagne.

Trump, however, later attempted to strike a more conciliatory tone, calling the situation a "minor trade dispute."

Macron, in turn, remained steadfast in his stance on NATO that irritated most allies, praising himself on putting the real problems squarely on the table. Moreover, in presence of Trump, he complained about Turkey in connection with the S-400 deal and its policy in Syria.

"When I look at Turkey, they are now fighting against those who fought alongside us (the Kurds). And sometimes they work with intermediaries of Daesh [Arabic acronym for IS]," the French president said.

Wednesday's one-hour meeting, which brought NATO leaders together did not settle the dispute either. After the talks, Macron said that not all the "clarifications" had been obtained, and not all the "ambiguities" had been lifted.

"The meeting was interesting, but it can only be the beginning of a longer discussion process," German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed.

Trump ultimately left London, without attending the final press conference after a video surfaced showing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in the company of Boris Johnson and Macron, appearing to mock the US president for his lengthy comments to reporters. Trump notably called Trudeau "two-faced."

In addition to this apparently unfriendly atmosphere, Erdogan warned that he would veto the alliance's plans to strengthen forces in Poland and the Baltics unless the bloc designated Syria's Kurdish militia as terrorists.

In the end, after talks with Trump and Polish President Andrzej Duda, as well as the leaders of the Baltic states and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Erdogan gave up his veto. An agreement, whose content is still unknown, has certainly been concluded with the Turkish head of state. But whatever the content, the planned consolidation of NATO's eastern flank has been ratified and the prospect of disintegration of the alliance has been avoided.

Plus, there has been no mention of Turkey's acquisition of the Russian advanced weapons in the joint declaration.

"The question: What has been the blackmail of Turkey vis-a-vis NATO to avoid a condemnation of the Alliance? Turkey's agreement for the defense of the Baltic states? To note the paragraph of the agreement on the fight against terrorism in all its forms and in all its manifestations. We do not name the IS, Al Qaeda [both terror groups, outlawed in Russia] but the phrasing allows to include the Kurdish YPG. Islamist terrorism is drowned in all other forms of terrorism," Pierre Henrot, a Brussels-based military expert and former commander of a nuclear battery in the NATO forces, told Sputnik.

RUSSIA, TERRORISM, CYBERWARFARE LISTED AS THREATS

"Russia's aggressive actions" were qualified in the final declaration as a threat, along with "terrorism in all its forms and manifestations" as well as cyber and hybrid threats. No other country was specifically designated as a threat.

Speaking at a defense industry meeting on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the alliance "was behaving not correct, not to say rude," toward Moscow, without any respect for the latter's interests, which resulted in rupture of relations. He expressed belief that the "bloc-era thinking stereotypes" could not be a "good tool for searching for and making effective decisions in a rapidly changing environment."

Among challenges, the London Declaration notably mentioned irregular migration. Following the second day of the NATO summit, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban welcomed that undocumented migration was for "the first time" recognized as a "security challenge."

"This focus is a great development and a serious step forward. We can also look at this as a Central European success," he said.

'NATO OBSOLETE, BUT WILL SURVIVE:' MACRON, ERDOGAN CANNOT DESTROY IT

According to Michel Liegeois, a professor at Belgium's University of Louvain, the 70-year-old NATO continues seeking to "re-invent itself, since the disappearance of the Soviet Union."

The problem of the burden-sharing in defense spending and Turkey's independent policy, however, are incapable of destroying the alliance, the expert believes.

"That problem [burden-sharing] seems to be solved, thanks to Trump's brutal demand to respect the 2% of GDP in defence spending ... The Turkish issue is more tricky. Erdogan wants to lead an autonomous foreign policy. Remember that general De Gaulle in France had also left the joint military command of NATO and had become an 'un-orthodox' member of the Alliance, selling for example weapons to the Soviet Union. I don't want to minimize the difficulties between NATO and Turkey, but over time, this should be settled," he said.

Liegeois noted that "NATO is indeed obsolete" given the end of the Cold War and the lack of unity over credibility of a "Russian threat," noting, however, that the alliance's defense capabilities would keep it afloat.

"But NATO is operational, and can launch operations in 48 hours. So I think the Alliance will survive the present difficulties and progressively switch to the Southern flank issues of terrorism and relations with some of the aggressive middle Eastern countries. There are already clear indications of it, in the conclusions of the Summit," he said.

Professor Nina Bachkatov, a Russia-Eurasia specialist at the Liege University, mainly echoed the aforementioned stance.

"NATO has a future if only because too many people have an interest in preserving it (including the thousands of people who work or revolve around it) - It's a bit cynical but still ... NATO will continue to depend on American technical support. But we will witness a Europeanization of security and defence issues, slow of course. We continue to hear that Russia remains a potential danger through its 'aggressive actions,' it has become the latest cliche - but we are also hearing more and more that we must remain 'open to dialogue'. A good point," she told Sputnik.

As for Macron's bold statements, Bachkatov says, "it would have been naive to imagine" that they could have real direct repercussions.

"Many can share his statements but few want to say it publicly. For Macron, it is a personal political game to impose himself as the man who does not hesitate to shake up the consensus and modernize the European continent," she pointed out.

As far as Erdogan's Turkey is concerned, the expert suggested that NATO had taken a stance: "let's wait for the successor."

BUDGET INCREASING, BUT GOALS STILL UNCLEAR

Military expert Henrot directed a strong portion of criticism at the alliance and its chief for allegedly ducking all of the most acute issues in the final declaration and remarks.

"The closing speech of Stoltenberg was pure wooden language. There was no statement on essential issues: - nothing on the terrorist character or not of the Kurdish YPGs, the tolerance (to say the least) of Turkey vis-a-vis the IS terrorists who have free access to Turkish territory," the expert said.

Turkey's purchase of Russia's S-400s, he stressed, was skirted around too.

"Stoltenberg notes that 'this is a national decision. The Russian system will never be integrated into the NATO system.' But he does not recognize that this is a significant weakening of air defence on the southern flank of NATO and a risk to ongoing operations in Syria and Iraq," Henrot argued.

"The NATO budget is increasing, but the goals are still not clear," he concluded.