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US stance on NATO keeps Munich Security Conference guessing

  • 17 February 2017
  • Author: QT1
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US stance on NATO keeps Munich Security Conference guessing


Munich (dpa)
- Is the United States going to remain true to its allies or not? That was the question haunting the start of the Munich Security Conference on Friday as world leaders tried to understand what to expect in a world with US President Donald Trump.

On NATO, US Secretary of Defence James Mattis kept to the line that he had presented earlier this week at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels: NATO needs to adapt to remain credible.

He said that NATO members could "no longer deny the reality" of international terrorism and other geopolitical risks and had to become "unified by these growing threats to our democracies."

The comments come days after he told fellow NATO members that the US would consider reining in its ties to NATO unless other members began honouring agreements to spend at least 2 per cent of their budgets on defence, a figure only achieved by four members currently.

The unease has only been heightened by statements Trump made during his campaign and before his inauguration questioning the usefulness of NATO, followed by more accommodating statements in recent days saying he sees the alliance's value.

The confusion has left other politicians in the US delegation struggling to assure their counterparts that the US will not leave them in the lurch.

"These are dangerous times, but you should not count America out and we should not count each other out," said US Senator John McCain, a long-time attendee at the conference and current head of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He added that Western values are worth defending, even as he commiserated with European nervousness about Trump's America First stance.

Without naming Trump, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen also rebuked some of his policies, noting that NATO is a group dedicated to values.

She then went on to state that such values would never allow member states to commit torture and argued that Western states need to find a joint strategy to deal with Russia. Trump has advocated allowing torture to be used in interrogations and has been dogged by allegations that he is not willing to stand up to Russian aggression.

She also called for joint policies against Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq, both areas where worries are high that Trump is uninterested in carrying on operations.

"We should guard against allowing our fight [against Islamic State] from turning into a general front against Islam and Muslims. Otherwise, we risk the danger of further ploughing the fields where danger and terrorism grow."

Trump called for a ban on immigration by Muslims during his campaign and attempted to implement a migration ban last month seen as targeting Muslim-majority countries.

Mattis is part of a US delegation that includes Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. The trio is among 30 heads of state and government and 80 foreign and defence ministers attending the talks in the Bavarian capital.

"Never before have there been so many foreign policy question marks," said Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador and the head of the conference, in reference to the Trump White House, the crises in Syria and Ukraine, as well as populist movements within Europe.

Pence is expected to outline the White House's foreign policy goals on Saturday and to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Ischinger said he hoped the conference would assuage some of the current uncertainty.

Other leaders to attend the conference include: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov; UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres; NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg; and the presidents of Ukraine and Afghanistan. 

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