NATO chief pitches trans-Atlantic unity

The Alliance turns 70 as rifts deepen, eyes expanded presence in Black Sea

Photo: AP NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to commemorate NATO's 70th anniversary in a ceremony in Washington, 3 April.

The head of NATO is using the alliance's 70th anniversary to make an unprecedented pitch to a joint meeting of the US Congress for trans-Atlantic unity. Amid tension, Jens Stoltenberg insists “the Atlantic does not divide us, it unites us.” Stoltenberg indirectly addressed US President Donald Trump's criticism of NATO and his push for an “America First” unilateral approach to the world throughout the speech and touched on trade and economic relations, another point of tension between the Trump administration and Europe.

“When we stand together, we are stronger than any potential challenger - economically, politically and militarily,” said Stoltenberg, the first NATO chief to address a joint meeting of Congress. “NATO lasts because it is in the national interest of each and every one of our countries.”

The alliance faces challenges that include a shifting balance of global power, an assertive Russia, cyberthreats, the wild card of technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing, the conflict in Afghanistan and terrorism, Stoltenberg said. He didn't list the challenge posed by alliance members such as Turkey and Italy, which are allying themselves more closely with Russia and China.

On Tuesday, Stoltenberg met with President Trump who has called on allies to invest more in military matters and wants their defence spending to go higher than 2%. Seven countries now meet the goal that NATO set in 2014 that each member direct at least 2% of their GDP towards their own military by 2024.

On the eve of its anniversary, NATO has agreed to invest $260m to fund a military storage site in central Poland in support of US forces that operate in the region. The construction on the site near Powidz, Poland, will begin this summer and is expected to take about two years to complete, Stoltenberg said during a news conference in Brussels on 1 April. The project is part of about $2.3bn in NATO funding for various military mobility initiatives that have taken place over the past four years. Speeding the military's ability to mobilise large numbers of troops, particularly along NATO's eastern border with Russia, has been a key focus for the alliance.

Stoltenberg said last Monday he expects allies to agree to expand their presence in the Black Sea in response to concerns about Russian aggression. New measures will focus on improving NATO's “situational awareness” in the region and stepping up support for Ukraine and Georgia - two non-NATO countries that have been involved in conflicts with Russia. Areas of support include “training of maritime forces and coast guards, port visits and exercises, and sharing of information,” Stoltenberg said. He stressed that Europe and North America are doing more together, and European Allies and Canada are expected to add $100bn more to their defence budgets by the end of next year.

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