You might think, given the brouhaha over the hot mic that caught Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commiserating with a few European leaders about working with a disrupter U.S. president named Donald Trump, that this week’s NATO leaders meeting in London was every bit as divisive and cacophonous as earlier alliance summits of the Trump era.
But in fact the meeting, meant to mark NATO’s 70th anniversary, was comparatively harmonious and forward-looking – especially given the sense of foreboding that permeated most transatlantic experts’ expectations. “It was a little like spring,” says Alexander Vershbow, a NATO deputy secretary-general during the Obama presidency. “In like a lion, out like a lamb.”
Yes, President Trump abruptly departed London after scrapping a press conference. Still, Mr. Vershbow says the meeting “ended on a very positive note” with “leaders determined to project unity ... and avoid drama.” Very different from last year’s summit in Brussels, he adds, which “ended on a tense note.”
To say the least. I was at the Brussels summit, and I recall the hand-wringing of European officials who worried right up until Air Force One was “wheels up” that President Trump just might pull the United States out of an alliance whose members he lambasted as freeloaders.
This year, he had mostly praise to offer his NATO counterparts for stepped-up defense spending (crediting himself for an upswing that began in 2014). He signed a final declaration that for the first time cites China as a NATO concern and names space as an “operational domain.”
OK, so maybe the political side of the alliance showed some fissures. But that’s hardly new. As seasoned NATO hands like to say, when you’re dealing with 29 democracies, it comes with the territory.