NATO insists it's united

NATO leaders pledged Thursday to stand united against foes like Russia despite a tumultuous summit that saw U.S. President Donald Trump rip into his allies for failing to boost defence spending, casting a dark cloud over the world's biggest security alliance.

A year after fueling doubts about whether Washington would defend allies who refuse to pay their fair share, Trump launched into the two-day summit in Brussels by berating Germany, among others. Still, by the time it was over he was ebullient, saying that European allies and Canada had "really stepped up their commitment" — and intimating that his relentless hectoring had forced other allies to spend more than NATO's long-term goal of 2 per cent of GDP on defence.

"Now we're very happy and have a very, very powerful, very, very strong NATO — much stronger than it was two days ago," Trump declared after what he described as a "fantastic meeting."

He was, however, short on details.

That's because, despite the political rhetoric, Trump — like his other 28 allies — signed a summit communique that had been agreed to by their ambassadors last weekend, five days before the summit began. Not a word was changed, officials confirmed.

The 23-page text did contain a reference to an old spending pledge the leaders made in 2014 after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, convincing NATO of the importance of halting spending cuts. The more than 20 allies not spending 2 per cent of GDP on their national military budgets pledged at the time to start investing more as their economies grew, and to move toward that goal by 2024.

Quizzed about whether Trump had demanded that his allies boost their budgets beyond 2 per cent, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg — who as NATO chairman has the unenviable job of speaking for all 29 allies — said: "We have made many decisions. You can read them in the declaration."

French President Emmanuel Macron was more straightforward. The declaration signed by the 29 NATO leaders, he said, "confirms the goal of 2 per cent by 2024. That's all."

Among the most tangible decisions the allies did make was an invitation for Macedonia to join once its name dispute with Greece is resolved and a referendum held confirming its new name of North Macedonia. The leaders also signed off on a much-expanded military training mission in Iraq, and vowed to keep funding the Afghan military — to the tune of around $1 billion a year — until 2024.

More modest announcements were made, most aimed at an increasingly belligerent Russia. Many have been in preparation for at least six months, having been endorsed by ambassadors, foreign and defence ministers to make it easier for the leaders to put pen to paper.

Two new military commands will be created — one in Norfolk, Virginia, the other in Ulm, Germany — to better move troops and equipment across the Atlantic and around Europe in times of crisis. The leaders also backed a plan to deploy 30 battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 battleships within 30 days as reinforcements, but it is unlikely to be close to operational before 2020.

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