- The 2018 summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is set to take place between 11 and 12 July in Brussels, Belgium.
- Disruption is probable and serious unrest possible due to protests.
- There are potential long-term implications for the alliance.
Travel Information: Between 11 and 12 July 2018, a meeting of the heads of state and government of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) will be held in Brussels, Belgium. The meeting will be chaired by the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of Norway and will take place at NATO headquarters on Boulevard Leopold III, 1110 Brussels.
The member states of NATO are: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States.
The spectre of US President Donald Trump hangs over the event. The US’ Atlantic allies are not quite sure what to expect from the Trump administration or this summit.
Demonstrations have already been announced in the lead up to this summit. On 07 July, “Stop NATO 2018” are set to gather at Brussels-North railway station at 1500hrs local time before marching south along Boulevard Roi Albert II before travelling on Boulevard Baudouin, Boulevard du Neuvième de Ligne, Rue Antoine Dansaert, Boulevard Anspach, and ending at Brussels-North. A NATO “counter-summit” will take place between 1000hrs and 1830hrs local time on 08 July at the Institut Libre Marie Haps. A different protest will occur from 1900hrs local time on 11 July as “Act for Peace” activists form a human chain around Cinquantenaire Park, where a NATO gala is set to be held. Protests should also be expected outside of EU government locations and foreign embassies in the city.
Solace Global Comment
This NATO summit comes on the heels of the G7 leaders meeting which was held on 08-09 June 2018 in Canada. Many commentators have suggested how unsuccessful or even disastrous the meeting in Canada was. The prediction that the summit would become a G6 versus one, with the ‘one’ being the US and Donald Trump, came to fruition. President Trump rejected an agreed upon communique (which had shown a minimal level of unity amid deep disagreements) and attacked other nations including Canada and the EU for their trade policies. Trump even arrived at the summit late and left early, leaving some to suggest that he does not view the United States post-World War Two alliance system in the same light as his predecessors.
There are fears that the unilateralist foreign, trade, and defence policies which President Trump seems intent on following will continue as a theme into the 2018 NATO summit, where many of the same actors will be present. Indeed, hopes are not high for a successful meeting of the leaders of NATO nations. At the NATO summit in 2017, Germany’s Chancellor Merkel famously remarked that Europe could no longer rely on the US and must take its destiny into its own hands. Also at the summit, President Trump pushed past Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic in preparation for the ‘family photo’, irking other NATO leaders. In the longer-term, Europe is concerned by US Defense Secretary James Mattis. As the antithesis of Trump, ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis has shown Europhile tendencies and has overseen a build-up of US military presence in Europe. However, reports in the US media suggest that his influence with the White House may be waning and that he could be forced out in the same way as other members of the administration who held traditionalist views, notably National Security Advisory HR McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
In the lead up to the summit, the White House has already announced a face-to-face meeting between Trump and President Putin of Russia. The US’ traditional European allies fear that Trump will heap praise on Putin while receiving scorn from the US president. It is of note that President Trump went directly from the G7 leaders meeting in Canada to the Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un, who he praised as being “very talented”, among other things, while calling Canadian Prime Minister “weak and dishonest”. Fractures, splits, or the dissolution of the Atlantic alliance would be welcomed by Putin, while be greeted with despair not only in Brussels but also in the capitals of Eastern Europe, notably the Baltic states. Putin wants to destabilise NATO and the EU while increasing its influence in Baltic and Balkan states – traditional spheres of Russian influence. Trump unilaterally agreed to suspend military exercises with South Korea after the summit with Kim; some in Europe fear he may unilaterally declare something similar in Europe after meeting with Putin. Indeed, it is of concern to Europe (and of delight to Putin) that Trump refused to endorse the collective defence clause in the NATO treaty in 2017.
Undoubtedly one of the key themes of the summit will be defence spending. A previous NATO agreement, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has set a requirement for spending on defence to be two per cent of a nation’s GDP (gross domestic product) by 2024. Recent reports suggest that only Greece, Estonia, and the UK are currently meeting this target from the EU nations in NATO. The US spends more than 3.5 per cent of its GDP on defence, while Slovenia, Spain, Belgium, and Luxembourg spent the least on defence within NATO last year, each investing under one per cent of their GDP. It should be noted, that the overall defencing spending (outside of the US) rose by five per cent in 2017 and by $87 billion since 2014 – all NATO members are increasing defence spending. President Trump made this a key issue at the 2017 summit and is likely to use the issue again in this upcoming summit. This demand, while legitimate in many senses, has the potential to derail another multilateral international summit in which the United States is involved. Indeed, President Trump has sent out letters to NATO members to demand that those not spending two per cent of their GDP do so. Officials suggest that the version of the letter sent to Germany contained some of the harshest language. While Trump and France’s President Macron have seemingly forged a good working relationship, the same cannot be said for the US leader’s relationship with Chancellor Merkel. Notably, on 18 June of this year, President Trump wrote on Twitter that “The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition. Crime in Germany is way up. Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!” Comments of this kind are almost unheard of between allies. Many in Europe will undoubtedly be beginning to see the US-Europe relationship not as one of partnership but as competition. There is the potential for this to have a significant impact on global geopolitical stability.
The outcome of the summit is difficult to predict. There is hope that President Trump will vent his displeasure with Europeans before the event, allowing the summit itself to become or be viewed as an act of reconciliation. One unnamed European diplomat reported that a “no-news summit [in 2018] would be a good summit”, this is perhaps the best-case scenario in the eyes of non-US NATO members. The real value of the 2018 Brussels NATO summit may only be fully understood after Trump meets Putin. Western leaders have found that the current US administration has the potential to change policies and positions with little communication or negotiation. No matter how this event goes, it will take more than a few bad summits to lead to the end of the alliance. While Trump’s relationships with leaders in Europe is a cause for concern, military-to-military relationships remain strong and Trump has generally deferred to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on significant military matters. It is also possible for the administration which follows this one to mend the political relationships between the US and its traditional allies. Though it is undoubtedly fears over NATO’s future which has led to nine European countries agreeing to establish a European military force for rapid deployment in times of crisis, as announced on 25 June 2018.
Low Political Risk
There is the potential for unorganised and unauthorised protests. Unlike demonstrations with planned permissions from the police, illegal protests have more potential to turn violent, especially if involving politically extreme groups. Travellers should avoid these large gatherings and prepare for violence at all rallies in the lead up to the NATO Summit. Travellers should also expect travel disruption not only in Brussels but other Belgian cities due to enhanced security measures and the potential for civil unrest. Travellers should maintain a low profile during this period and avoid all protests due to the potential for violence. Due to security forces being on a high state of alert, all instructions given by officials should be adhered to.
Those with planned itineraries to Brussels should consider delaying their travel until after the culmination of the summit. Travel conditions are likely to be arduous, and journeys are expected to take longer than normal.
Travellers are advised to maintain at least the usual level of situational awareness and employ appropriate levels of personal security at all times. Solace Global would not advise clients of the need to implement heightened physical security measures when visiting Belgium. Travellers should consider employing a travel tracking system with an integrated intelligence feed, to allow employers to effectively execute duty of care, and permit the traveller to remain up to date with potential threats.