Trump Meets Resistance in Push to Expand NATO’s Islamic State Fight

  • Allies are wary of the implications of active involvement
  • Negotiations continue ahead of NATO Brussels summit next week

Displaced Iraqis walk after evacuating their homes in a neighborhood of west Mosul on May 17, 2017, during an offensive by Iraqi forces to retake the area from Islamic State group fighters.

Photographer: FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images

European nations including France and Germany are pushing back against pressure from the U.S. for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to step up its involvement in the fight against the Islamic State, according to three officials with knowledge of the matter.

While each NATO member country has already joined a U.S.-led international coalition against the terrorist organization, European nations are wary of the alliance becoming more involved due to the potential implications of its role, the people said, asking not to be named as the matter is sensitive. Diplomats are seeking a compromise over the wording in an internal “chairman’s report” on the matter before NATO leaders meet in Brussels next week.

“It’s being discussed whether NATO should join the coalition and those allies who are arguing in favor are pointing at the fact that by joining the coalition, NATO could send a clear message of political support,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on Thursday before a meeting of European Union defense ministers. “But no decision has been taken and discussion is going on.”

Disagreement about NATO’s role in counter-terrorism operations adds to tensions between continental Europe and the administration of President Donald Trump, following clashes earlier this year on defense spending targets and international trade. Failure to resolve the latest dispute would further strain the world’s closest political and economic alliance after revelations that the U.S. president had passed on intelligence to Russia about a terrorist plot to weaponize laptops in airplanes, while keeping his EU partners in the dark.

German and French government officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

European nations are concerned that if NATO joins the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, they may end up being dragged into a new war by potentially erratic actions of an unpredictable White House, according to one of the officials. Also, France has been persistently reluctant to accept foreign involvement in what it sees as internal security matters, like counter-terrorism.

“A stronger NATO role would be viewed skeptically by Arab states, and certainly not palatable to the European public,” Roderich Kiesewetter, a lawmaker for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and member of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said.

A separate official said Germany is reluctant to share intelligence with NATO ally Turkey, amid doubts about Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s commitment to the fight against terrorism. Other countries, like Italy have raised concerns about the costs, as well as the prospect of sharing the credit for anti-terrorism operations with countries that contribute less to combat activities, a third official said.

In addition to NATO’s involvement in counter-terrorism operations, leaders meeting in Brussels next week will also discuss burden sharing in collective defense, where a consensus has been reached to draw up individual national plans outlining increases in defense spending with the aim of reaching a commonly agreed target of 2 percent of gross domestic product.

— With assistance by Patrick Donahue

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