BRUSSELS – NATO foreign ministers met in Brussels Wednesday to make final preparations for an imminent summit of the military alliance’s leaders amid deep political tensions between the allies.
The rift was exacerbated by French President Emmanuel Macron’s allegations that NATO is suffering a “brain death” due to a lack of U.S. leadership, an unpredictable Turkey, and the need for Europe to take more responsibility for its own security.
The summit in London on Dec. 3-4 will last just a few hours, allowing little time for debate. U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to repeat his perennial demand for the 29 allies to step up military spending and this will probably dominate the meeting.
To mollify him, NATO is set to release new figures that will again show a rise in spending among European allies and Canada. The alliance says defense spending has increased five years in a row and that over $100 billion in new funds has poured in since Trump took office.
The following are some “summit deliverables” to be agreed Wednesday and unveiled in 2 weeks.
The challenge from China
The ministers will endorse a confidential report laying out NATO’s new policy toward China. The idea is to be ready for any security challenge posed by China’s rise, while still taking advantage of the economic opportunities it might offer.
NATO doesn’t plan to move into Asia, but rather to respond to China’s growing presence in Africa or its purchase of European infrastructure. The trick has been to find a way not to portray the country as an adversary like Russia.
Envoys insist that China poses no military threat, but members are wary of the dominant role Chinese firms play in telecommunications infrastructure.
The U.S.-driven policy focuses in part on China’s strategic investments, including in weapons, but also on developing ties with nearer neighbors like Japan and South Korea, or Australia and New Zealand.
Space, the “fifth domain”
After land, sea, air and cyber, NATO is naming space the fifth security area where it might be called to action. Some 2,000 satellites orbit the earth, over half operated by NATO countries. They handle everything from communications, to data, imagery and more. Destroying any of them could wreak havoc below.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance’s “approach will remain defensive and fully in line with international law.” He says that “NATO has no intention to put weapons in space.”
NATO’s eye in the sky
NATO is set to upgrade its aging fleet of surveillance aircraft for the last time before the four-decade-old planes are mothballed in 2035. Stoltenberg says that next week the alliance will sign a contract worth $1 billion “upgrading, modernizing, the AWACS fleet.”
The 14 Boeing E-3A planes are among the few military assets that NATO owns as an alliance. Member nations own all the other equipment, apart from a few shared drones.
The aircraft are based in Germany and were used during the Russia-Ukraine crisis, to assist Turkey during the war in Syria and to help the global coalition fighting the Islamic State group.
NATO experts say the planes will not be safe to fly after 2035. Stoltenberg says the military alliance is looking at how to replace the fleet by then.