Europe ON EDGE at Munich Security Conference as fears over Trump pulling out of NATO vow

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NATO members are approaching the annual Munich security conference with fright as some believe the US could pull out of one of the founding NATO principles, collective defence. The German conference will take place over the weekend, from February 15 to 17, and may see more than 35 country leaders attending it. Among them, the US will speak on Saturday, with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo taking the stage. 

European observers believe that this year, rather than reaffirming the NATO’s principles, the US could break away from Article 5 over the ongoing issues of the spending target.

Nathalie Tocci, a director at the Institute of International Affairs in Rome and special adviser to Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat, said: “Trump had focused on defence spending in the past and there has been this lingering question about Article 5.

“But the new element is the possible linkage between the two – which really speaks to this transactional nature of international relations under Trump.”

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Article 5 is an enduring principle granting that if an armed attack takes place “against one or more of the Allies in Europe or North America” it will “be considered an attack against them all”.

The programme of this year’s gathering in Munich seems to reflect the worries of the Allies, warning of a “new era of great power competition” between the US, China and Russia and a “certain leadership vacuum” in the West.

The US President has been complaining about the US carrying all the burden of defence expenses on its own shoulders since taking office in 2016.

The issue of the two percent target is likely to come up also at the two-day gathering in Brussels of the NATO defence ministers. 

During last year’s NATO summit in Brussels, Mr Trump urged the Allies to share the costs of defence, and even invited them to raise their defence spending target, currently set at two percent of each country’s GDP, to four percent.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said: “During the President’s remarks today at the Nato summit he suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2 percent of their GDP on defence spending, but that they increase it to four percent.

“President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and, at a very minimum, meet their already stated obligations.”

In 2018 only four countries out of 29 Allies met the spending target.   

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