WASHINGTON – Hailing the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the leader of NATO told U.S. lawmakers Wednesday the military alliance remains strong – but members must resolve disputes that have emerged in the era of President Donald Trump.
“We have overcome our disagreements in the past, and we must overcome our differences now,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a special joint address to Congress.
Citing terrorism and cyber war, to aggression from the Islamic State and Russia, Stoltenberg told American allies that “we will need our alliance even more in the future.”
Stoltenberg, the former prime minister of Norway, said at one point that “questions are being asked on both sides of the Atlantic about the strength of our partnership.”
The NATO chief added that “there are differences,” noting disputes over trade, energy, climate change policy, the Iran nuclear agreement and burden sharing among NATO allies – issues raised by Trump.
More: Donald Trump, NATO leader meet amid tensions over military spending by US allies
More: Trump, again, falsely says his father is from Germany. Fred Trump was born in New York
At times, Stoltenberg drew contrasts with Trump, but did so carefully and without specifically calling out the president. He expressed support for the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the U.S. and Russia, even though Trump is withdrawing from it.
On the other hand, Stoltenberg voiced support for Trump’s position that Russia is in violation of the INF by developing new kinds of missiles, and he called on the Russians to desist.
While Trump has questioned NATO’s relevance in the modern world, Stoltenberg repeatedly cited the alliance’s work in Afghanistan and counter-terrorism in general. He noted that the only time the alliance has invoked its mutual defense commitment was after terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
The only time Stoltenberg mentioned Trump by name was in a mention of financial commitments by NATO members. He agreed with the president’s contention that some countries need to spend more on their defense budgets.
Noting that NATO members are on track to increase defense spending by up to $100 billion, Stoltenberg said that “this has been the clear message from President Trump and this message is having a real impact.”
The secretary general’s address came a day after a positive meeting between Stoltenberg and Trump at the White House.
While he has questioned the value of NATO in the past, Trump praised NATO members for increased spending (though he criticized one large member, Germany, over proposed defense budget cuts).
He and Stoltenberg are “both committed to ensuring that NATO can address the full range of threats facing the alliance today,” Trump said.
The congressional invitation to Stoltenberg signaled an implicit rebuke to Trump’s criticisms of NATO. Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., cited their support for NATO in extending the joint invitation to Stoltenberg.
“For 70 years, America’s relationships with our @NATO allies have formed the foundation of our efforts to make the world a more secure & peaceful place,” Pelosi tweeted after the speech, and “we affirm America’s ironclad commitment to NATO & achieving permanent peace.”
In his address, Stoltenberg noted that NATO has had intra-alliance disputes before, including loud disagreement over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“The strength of NATO is that despite our differences we have always been able to unite around our core task, to defend each other, protect each other, and to keep our people safe,” Stoltenberg said.
Chartered in 1949, NATO was designed to prevent a third world war and curb the aggression of the Soviet Union, he said. In seven decades since, it has helped promote global peace and win the Cold War.
The 70th anniversary of the signing of the NATO treaty in Washington, D.C., is Thursday.
That treaty included “an ironclad commitment by all members of the alliance to protect each other,” Stoltenberg said. “They made a solemn promise – one for all and all for one.”
The United States has been good for NATO, and vice-versa, Stoltenberg told Congress. Thanks to the alliance, he said, the U.S. has “more friends and allies than any other power” in the world.
Echoing a comment he had made earlier, Stoltenberg closed his speech by saying: “It is good to have friends.”