Monday

20th May 2019

Nato helps bind Western ties amid G7 'trade war'

  • Stoltenberg (r) with US defence chief Mattis in Brussels on Thursday (Photo: nato.int)

Nato is helping to sustain transatlantic unity amid a Western rift on trade, its Norwegian director has said.

But extra American troops in Europe and new military HQs were overshadowed the same day by a public quarrel between US president Donald Trump and French leader Emmanuel Macron.

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  • Nato ministers met for first time at its new HQ in Belgium (Photo: nato.int)

"Not only do we see a Nato which is united, but we see actually a Nato which is able to strengthen our cooperation and transatlantic bond," Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato head and former Norwegian PM, told press in Brussels on Thursday (7 June).

"Despite the differences we see between Nato allies … on issues like trade, we see a Nato which is delivering on strengthening our collective defence, [and] the biggest reinforcement to our collective defence since the end of the Cold War," he added.

Stoltenberg spoke after Nato defence ministers met at its new HQ in Belgium.

He also spoke ahead of a summit of the Group of Seven, or G7, powerful nations, in Canada this weekend, where the US-EU trade dispute will take the centre stage.

Trump imposed 'America First' tariffs on EU steel and aluminium exports last month on national security grounds, prompting an EU retaliation against US products.

But US defence minister Jim Mattis echoed Stoltenberg when asked in Brussels on Thursday if the trade clash could harm defence ties.

"Right now I don't see that ... and I think it's still premature to call it a trade war," Mattis said.

Transatlantic unity was put further in doubt two days ago, when a new government in Italy, a G7 member, said the West should lift sanctions on Russia.

But Stoltenberg downplayed the new political force in Rome. He described Italy as "a valued and important … ally" that was "contributing to our shared security in many different ways".

"Nato allies have welcomed and supported the sanctions because it has to have a cost … when international rules are violated," Stoltenberg said, referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"We have to stay united, especially when we see that Russia tries to divide us," he said.

Nato defence ministers, on Thursday, agreed to add 1,200 personnel to its command structures and to create new HQs in the US and in Germany, he noted.

The US was also putting more troops in Europe in order to deter Russian aggression, he added.

"For the first time in Nato's history, we have combat troops, or we have battlegroups in the Baltic region and in Poland. We have a US-led battlegroup in Poland," Stoltenberg said.

"What we see is that the US is increasing its presence in Europe," he said.

Trump-Macron tweets

The Nato facts on the ground were overshadowed by a public feud between Trump and Macron on trade later the same day, however.

The Twitter punch-up came after Macron attacked Trump's tariffs at a press conference with Canadian leader Justin Trudeau in Canada ahead of the G7 summit.

"We [Nato members] are all engaged in conflicts in Syria, in Iraq, in the Sahel, in different places in the world. We're allies. Our soldiers stand shoulder-to-shoulder to defend liberty and our values," Macron said.

"You can't, among allies in this international context, start a trade war. For me it's a question of principle," he said.

Trump's tariffs were "unilateral and illegal" and his use of national security as a pretext was "risible", Canada's Trudeau said.

The other six countries might well sign a separate declaration on trade and on climate change at the G7 summit in Quebec, leaving Trump out in the cold, Macron also said.

"The American president may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a six-country agreement if need be," the French leader said on Twitter, prompting Trump to get involved.

Trump hit back that the EU and Canada had "for years … used massive trade tariffs and non-monetary trade barriers against the US".

The EU had a trade surplus of $151bn with the US he said, in a factually incorrect comment, which exaggerated the real surplus by $50bn.

"Look forward to seeing them [Macron and Trudeau] tomorrow," Trump added, sarcastically, setting the scene for another show of Western disunity in Canada on Saturday.

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