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Trump visit raises hackles and helicopters


Brussels residents on Tuesday will have been treated to a first in the city: a veritable coptercade of helicopters bringing Nato heads of state and government to the first true summit at the alliance’s new headquarters in Evere, directly opposite the old headquarters. Prior to the summit, as reported previously, the arrival of US president Donald Trump had led to a march through Brussels of opponents to his “sexist and racist” policies. In the event, the president was exposed to none of that. Under heavy security, he was transported from the airport to his temporary residence at The Hotel to Nato, which he visited in May for the inauguration of the new HQ.

On his arrival, Trump showed himself no more conciliatory towards his partners than last time, when he launched a tirade about their defence spending commitments. This time, the target was Germany, criticising an oil and gas contract between Germany and Russia.

In a meeting with Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, Trump claimed the US was “protecting” countries like France and Germany, while they were singing contracts which paid billions into the Russian treasury. He even claimed that “Germany is being controlled by Russia”.

In the meantime, back in the USA, the Trump administration and election campaign are being investigated by a special counsel, Robert Mueller, on allegations that the campaign was influenced by collusion with the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin.

The issue of Nato financing is being conflated by Trump and others with the issue of defence spending in general. To put it simply, the working of the alliance is financed by member states according to a formula agreed by all, and adhered to by all.

In addition, each member state has committed to spending 2% of GDP on military spending, none of it related to Nato commitments. Some have, some have not.

Belgium, for example, spends only 0.93% of its GDP on defence spending, equal with Spain and almost bottom of the Nato table, just above Luxembourg.

However this spending relates to national defence spending, and has nothing to do with Nato commitments. US hawks wish to present the situation as one in which the US is subsidising its Nato partners. But the US has no part in the support of national defence spending of Nato partners. The US pays no more than its agreed share of Nato spending, whatever nation states do domestically.

And in fact some states, such as the UK, spend far more than their Nato share on projects such as the war on Iraq, which is not a matter for Nato, but is in support of the US. This does not enter into the equation of the Trump accounting.

Meanwhile, traffic in Brussels, despite the parade of some 30 helicopters for the heads of state, was seriously disrupted on Wednesday, and the same expected on Thursday. Avoid the Avenue Leopold-II on both days. Also the area around the American embassy around Rue Ducale, as well as the area all around the Cinquantenaire park, where dignitaries will enjoy a dinner.

Access to the airport will also be complicated, according to the Brussels Airport Company, not only by the Nato summit, but also by a strike by rail workers. Passengers are advised to plan well in advance, and keep up to date via the Brussels Airport website.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times