NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in 2017. Image: Raul Mee/Flickr

Something big and important happened at the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conference in London and, no, it was NOT Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, French President Macron, Princess Anne and British Prime Minister Johnson caught gossiping about U.S. President Trump on an open mic.

The highly respected organization NATO Watch reports that there were a number of consequential outcomes of the conference, notable among them a commitment to increase military spending across Europe and in Canada by a staggering US$400 billion. 

That little fact, alone, might have been more worthy of media attention than some leaders’ inconsequential comments at a cocktail party. But the story does not end at the massive increase in spending on the capacity to make war. NATO Watch has documented other worrisome new NATO initiatives. 

For the first time ever, NATO has acknowledged outer space as what it calls the “fifth domain” of warfare. The other warfare domains are land, air, sea and cyberspace.

Another worrying development is that NATO is backing down from a commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. 

As NATO Watch reports, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledges “these are tough times for arms control … the global arms control regime that has served us so well is eroding.”  Stoltenberg cites “Russia’s disregard for its international commitments, and the emergence of new actors and new technologies.”

The London conference’s declaration does uphold NATO’S commitment “to full implementation of the Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in all its aspects, including nuclear disarmament.” But that should not lull us into a false sense of security, because the declaration goes on to say, ominously, that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.” 

NATO Watch’s acerbic comment on this pretzel position is: “If the strongest and most successful alliance in history is unable to break this nuclear catch-22 then the long-term prospects for the non-proliferation treaty are not promising.”

Making matters worse is the fact that this past August the United States withdrew from another existing treaty, the one on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF).

“The collapse of the INF Treaty could spark a new arms race,” NATO Watch warns. It adds that “the United States wasted little time in testing a medium-range cruise missile (that would have violated the treaty had it still been in force) only 16 days after pulling out of the treaty.”

U.S. withdrawing from Open Skies as well

And we’re not through yet with the bad news.  

NATO will have to deal with the fact that Donald Trump’s U.S. government has signalled its intent to withdraw from yet another key piece of the international arms control system, the Open Skies Treaty, which dates back 27 years to 1992. 

This agreement between Russia and western countries (including Canada) allows reconnaissance flights over each other’s territories. It is designed to promote openness and transparency when it comes to all military activities. 

A lot more happened in London, including the creation of an expert working group to look at the future of the alliance, largely in reaction to French President Macron’s complaint that NATO has become “brain dead” — a view that seems to be widely shared among NATO members.

The Canadian Rideau Institute, which specializes in peace and security issues, argues that this working group presents an opportunity for Canada to work with other like-minded NATO members to ensure that the organization’s mandate includes a strong arms control component.

That opportunity is, of course, fraught with major challenges, given the alliance’s profound ambivalence on arms control.

For the Rideau Institute, the fact that Canadian media coverage of the London conference overwhelmingly focused on the bits and pieces of a leaders’ conversation picked up by an errant microphone is a source of major frustration. 

As the Institute’s president Peggy Mason put it:

“Did CBC or other major Canadian outlets discuss the new reflection process agreed at the London Meeting?  Did they lament the secrecy surrounding the new NATO Military Strategy that may well incorporate the absolute worst aspects of Trumpian nuclear policy? Did they explore why there are such stark differences among NATO members on how to approach Russia?

“No, they spent their time hyping silly gossip, to the delight of Trump-friendly Fox news. Canadians deserve better, much better.”  

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble’s politics reporter.

Image: Raul Mee/Flickr

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Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg joined rabble in 2011 to cover Canadian politics. He has worked as a journalist and filmmaker for many decades, including two and a half decades at CBC/Radio-Canada. Among his career highlights...