Nato summit: Leaders meet at 70th anniversary amid rows

Media captionNato’s family drama and tensions explained

Nato leaders are meeting near London, as tensions between members threaten to overshadow a summit marking the military alliance’s 70th birthday.

The three-hour talks are expected to cover issues such as cyber-attacks and the strategic challenge posed by China.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the host, is set to remind members that the commitment to defend one another is at the heart of the alliance.

Tuesday saw sharp exchanges between the US and French leaders over many topics.

The highly choreographed anniversary gathering, intended to show unity, has been unable to hide deep differences between Nato members, BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale reports.

Although the 29-member bloc’s future is not in doubt, there are disagreements over Turkey’s recent military action in northern Syria, the levels of military spending by members and recent controversial comments by French President Emmanuel Macron that the alliance is “brain dead”.

The gathering at a luxury hotel near Watford follows receptions held on Tuesday at Buckingham Palace and Downing Street. Mr Johnson is expected to say the alliance protects “nearly a billion people” under a principle of “one for all, and all for one”.

What happened on Tuesday?

The first day of the special anniversary summit saw tensions bubble to the surface. US President Donald Trump and Mr Macron met for talks and in a news conference sparred over Nato’s role, Turkey, and Islamic State group (IS) fighters.

Ties between Mr Trump and Mr Macron were already strained amid a dispute over taxes and trade, and comments from the French president last month that the US commitment to the alliance was fading.

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Mr Trump had earlier hit back by saying the French leader had been “very disrespectful” by describing Nato as “brain dead” in what he said were “nasty” comments. Mr Macron then said he stood by his words.

Media captionDonald Trump: Macron comments “nasty, insulting, and disrespectful”

On Tuesday, Mr Macron also attended a meeting in Downing Street with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mr Johnson.

Meanwhile, President Trump and Mr Johnson held unscheduled bilateral talks. Ahead of Wednesday’s talks, Mr Trump tweeted they both had “talked about numerous subjects including Nato and trade.”

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Nato leaders attended a reception hosted by the Queen and Prince of Wales on Tuesday

What is the background to tensions?

Nato started out in 1949 with just 12 countries as members but having now expanded to a bloc of 29 it is increasingly difficult for the alliance to project a united front.

Two key issues have loomed over this summit: defence spending – a longstanding issue of concern for the US, which militarily dominates the group – and relations between Turkey and other member states.

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The Queen talks to President Trump and his wife Melania during the reception at Buckingham Palace

Before departing for London, Mr Erdogan said he would oppose a Nato defence plan for the Baltic region if the bloc did not support Turkey over its fight against Kurdish groups in Syria it considers terrorists.

But other leaders, including Mr Macron, have made clear they oppose such a move, not least because Kurdish-led forces drove IS militants out of a quarter of Syria with the help of a US-led multinational coalition.

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Turkey’s relations with other Nato members have been strained since it started a military offensive in Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria in October. That followed the decision by President Trump to withdraw US troops from the region, reportedly without consulting allies.

“When I look at Turkey, they now are fighting against those who fought with us shoulder to shoulder against [IS],” the French president said alongside Mr Trump.

Media captionMacron: “We don’t have the same definition of terrorism” around Nato table

Mr Erdogan’s decision to buy the S-400 Russian missile defence system has further exacerbated tensions. Mr Trump said he was “looking at” imposing sanctions over the deal while Mr Macron asked: “How is it possible to be a member of the alliance… and buy things from Russia?”

What about the spending row?

Since becoming US president in 2016, Donald Trump has frequently and forcefully criticised how much other Nato allies spend on defence.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced increased spending commitments ahead of the UK meeting and discussed the matter with President Trump on Tuesday.

“We are making real progress, most importantly on the burden sharing. And your leadership on defence spending is having a real impact,” Mr Stoltenberg said at an appearance alongside the US president.

He said Canada and European allies had added $130bn to defence budgets since 2016 and that this number would increase to $400bn by 2024.

Nato estimates for 2019 show there are now eight countries – in addition to the US – meeting the target agreed by all Nato members to spend 2% or more of their gross domestic product (GDP, a measure of economic output) on defence.

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What is Nato?

Media captionNato explained in 80 seconds
  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is the world’s most powerful defence alliance
  • It was set up in 1949, after World War Two, amid anxiety over Soviet expansion
  • It was founded on the principle of collective defence between allies
  • Originally had 12 members, but now has 29

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