On 3 April, Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Jens Stoltenberg spoke to a rare joint session of Congress, with remarks aimed at confronting Russia.
Stoltenberg mentioned recent aggressions by Russia that were of particular concern to NATO, particularly the years-long violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, violations that prompted the U.S. to withdraw from the agreement back in February.
Citing more Russian heavy-handedness over the past decade, from the annexation of Crimea in 2014, to its cyber aggression across the globe, to last year’s use of a nerve agent on a former spy, to Moscow’s support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, Stoltenberg laid out measures NATO has taken to bolster its ability to counter Russia militarily. However, Stoltenberg added that NATO is not looking for a fight. “We do all of this, not to provoke a conflict, but to prevent conflict and to preserve peace. Not to fight but to deter. Not to attack but to defend,” he said during his 40-minute-long remarks.
But alas, Stoltenberg could not avoid the elephant in the room, namely the longstanding criticism President Donald Trump has of the old Alliance. Concerns about U.S. support for NATO were clearly on display during Stoltenberg’s address to Congress. Indeed, the secretary general’s speech seemed to be largely a forty-minute reminder session as to why the U.S. benefits from NATO. As Stoltenberg explained, “The strength of a nation is not only measured by the size of its economy or the number of its soldiers, but also by the number of its friends […] through NATO, the United States has more friends and allies than any other power.”
Truth be told, this reaction by NATO officials is exactly what Trump was looking for when he began his attacks on NATO last summer. While it is obvious America benefits from the Alliance, the president has been bent on extracting more participation and commitment from the organization’s other partners, demanding, for example, a two-percent of GDP contribution to defense spending from every member. NATO’s secretary general in Washington practically begging the U.S. to be more involved is precisely what Trump and his cabinet were targeting.