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NATO announces expansion as trade war with EU hots up

NATO unveiled new plans during a two-day meeting of its defence ministers in Brussels, ahead of a NATO summit to be attended by US President Donald Trump as the trade war between former allies grows hotter.

Published: June 11, 2018, 7:33 am

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    The Trump administration blamed Canada for Trump’s decision to not sign on to a communique at the G-7 summit in Quebec, Canada, over the weekend. “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad-faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door,” White House adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News on Sunday.

    The US decision to withdraw from a communique has irked G-7 leaders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the development “depressing” and “sobering”. The forum, now the G-6, used to act as the steering committee for the world economy.

    An open trade war is now looming after Trump doubled down on his decision to impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports at the beginning of the month. Canada, Mexico and European countries have vowed to implement retaliatory tariffs.

    In response, a reinforcement of NATO’s presence in Europe was announced with the deployment of 30 troop battalions, 30 aircraft squadrons and 30 warships within 30 days — the so-called “Four 30s”.

    NATO ministers also increased staffing levels to more than 1 200 personnel for two new commands in Norfolk, Virginia and Ulm, Germany to operate during a conflict in mainland Europe, the Associated Press reported.

    “We have decided further steps to strengthen our shared security and boost defence and deterrence against threats from any direction,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the media. He said that the two commands would help to “ensure we have the right forces in the right place at the right time”.

    Stoltenberg meanwhile denied that trade tensions had played a part in the Brussels summit. “There are differences related to issues like trade, the Iran nuclear deal and climate change,” he said. “We have disagreements between NATO allies, but we stand together in NATO when it comes to the core task of NATO … to protect each other.”

    But the US currently accounts for almost 72 percent of all NATO spending, essentially signalling a strengthening of NATO’s presence amid rising trade tensions.

    Only three European nations have hit the 2 percent spending target demanded by the US — the UK, Greece and Estonia. The US hopes that four more nations — Poland, Romania, Latvia and Lithuania — will join by July this year.

    Thursday’s NATO summit was the first since the US President fired the first salvo in the trade war by imposing steel tariffs on European allies and Canada.

    The US president believes America is being “cheated” by its trading partners, including the EU. As it happens, EU tariffs on average are very similar to those of the US, the Financial Times reported.

    Trump surprisingly invited Russia back to the G7, but President Putin declined the invitation.

    The US president not only backtracked on his pledge to sign the G7 communiqué shortly after leaving the meeting in Canada, but also launched a personal attack on the Canadian premier calling him “weak”. He has also threatened to impose more trade tariffs on European automobiles “flooding” the US market. 

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