A Summit of the Brain Dead?

A Summit of the Brain Dead?

"The NATO states are not paying their fair share," the American president said. "We have been very generous to Europe," he continued, "and it is now time for us to look out for ourselves, knowing full well that the Europeans will not do anything for us simply because we have in the past helped them."

So said John F. Kennedy during a national security meeting with his staff in 1963.

At the time, NATO was just 14 years old. The issue of burden-sharing in the alliance was already a divisive topic, but the Soviet threat held things together. This year the alliance turned 70 – and as leaders of the bloc's 29 member states meet in London today to mark that anniversary, NATO's purpose and future are more uncertain than ever.


Three big questions hang over the summit:

First, is NATO relevant? NATO was formed in the earliest days of the Cold War as a military bloc to deter Soviet aggression. Since the USSR collapsed in 1991, the alliance has struggled to define a new purpose as unifying as that one. Is it meant to prevent Russia from doing to former Soviet-bloc NATO members what it's done to Ukraine since 2014? Is it also a Western counter-terrorism bloc? Should it also focus more on the 21st century threat of cyberwarfare? Or is it enough that it's a military alliance guaranteeing security and stability for the world's two largest economic areas (North America and the EU)?

Second, is NATO "brain dead"? French President Emmanuel Macron recently threw a (rhetorical) bomb into the alliance by warning that Washington's shakier commitment to NATO, alongside internal disagreements over NATO-member Turkey's invasion of northern Syria, had put the alliance in danger of "brain death." Macron thinks the EU must develop its own collective defense plans if it wants to stay globally relevant. Other European NATO leaders don't really agree with that (they see in it Charles De Gaulle's old ambition of a Paris-led European security order), but Macron's remarks threw a harsh light on a basic question: are there still common transatlantic values and aspirations that can hold NATO together into the future?

Third, is NATO fair? NATO member states are supposed to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense. Currently, only seven of them reach that level, while the US spends a hefty 3.39 percent. As the Kennedy quote above shows, questions about European "freeloading" are at least three generations old, but Trump is the first president to raise this issue so openly.

NATO heads of state are expected to renew their commitment to hitting those targets this week, but the bigger questions about the alliance's future will remain. Word is that the bloc is going to appoint a council of "wise persons" on how to reform and refresh the alliance ahead of the next summit in 2021.

What do you think the point of NATO in the 21st century ought to be? Let us know, and we'll run some of your best ideas.

Emily Ademola lives in an area of Nigeria that has been attacked by Boko Haram militants in the past. Looking for water was very risky, and without access to water, the community – especially children – were at risk of waterborne diseases. Eni, in partnership with FAO, built a water well in Emily's community in 2019.

Watch Emily's first-hand account about how access to water "close to our doorsteps" has improved the quality of life for her community and her family.

There's never a great time to impose higher taxes on funeral services — but doing it in the middle of a raging pandemic is an especially bad move. Yet that was one of a number of measures that the Colombian government proposed last week in a controversial new tax bill that has provoked the country's largest and most violent protests in decades.

In the days since, the finance minister has resigned, the tax reform has been pulled, and President Iván Duque has called for fresh dialogue with activists, union leaders, and opposition politicians.

But demonstrations, vandalism, and deadly clashes with police have only intensified. Two dozen people are dead, 40 are missing, and the UN has criticized Colombian police for their heavy-handed response.

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Listen: India's latest COVID explosion hits home as one Delhi-based journalist speaks with Ian Bremmer about her own father's death from the virus. Barkha Dutt has been reporting on the pandemic in India since it began, but nothing could prepare her for the catastrophic second wave that has hit her country in the last few weeks—and that has now shattered her own family. Would her father have survived if the oxygen tank in his ambulance had been working, or if the ambulance hadn't gotten stuck in Delhi traffic?She asks similar questions of her national government. Why was it caught so unprepared by this second wave, well over a year into the pandemic? Why has India, the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, been so slow to vaccinate its own citizens? And how much of the blame falls at the feet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What's going on between the United Kingdom and France over fishing rights?

Yes, good question. Why on earth are they sending the Royal Navy to chase away some French fishermen from the island of Jersey? Fishing rights is very controversial. It was one of the key issues in the Brexit negotiations. Extremely divisive. Fishermen are fairly determined people but sending the Royal Navy to handle the French fishermen was somewhat excessive. I guess it played rather well with the English nationalists for Boris Johnson in the local elections, though.

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COVID has officially killed almost 3.5 million people around the world since the beginning of the pandemic. But some public health experts believe that the real number could be more than twice as high, because of challenges to accurately reporting the death toll in many countries around the world. A new study from the University of Washington contends, for example, that actual deaths are nearly 60 percent higher than reported in the US, twice as high in India, more than four times as high in Russia... and a staggering ten times higher than the official tally in Japan. Here's a look at how official figures compare to actual estimated deaths in the 20 countries where COVID has claimed the most lives.

While residents of wealthy countries are getting ready for hot vaxxed summer — COVID is still ravaging many low- and middle-income countries. The horrifying scenes coming out of India in recent weeks have gripped the world, causing governments and civil society to quickly mobilize and pledge support.

But on the other side of the globe, Brazil is also being pummeled by the pandemic — and has been for a year now. Yet thus far, the outpouring of aid and (solidarity) hasn't been as large.

What explains the global alarm at India's situation, and seeming passivity towards Brazil's plight? What are the politics of compassion?

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Paris-London face-off at sea: France and the UK are at loggerheads in the high seas this week over post-Brexit fishing access in Jersey, an island off the English Channel. Furious at regulations that they say makes it harder to fish in these lucrative waters, dozens of French fishing boats amassed near the Channel Island, threatening to block access to the port. In response, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson deployed two naval vessels — a move critics say was an unnecessary escalation, and an attempt by the PM to flex his muscles and bolster the Tory vote ahead of Thursday's regional election. France, for its part, sent its own naval ship and threatened to cut off Jersey's electricity supply, 90 percent of which comes from French underwater cables. Fishing rights was one of the final sticking points of Brexit trade negotiations, an emotive political issue for many Britons who say that they got a subpar deal when the UK joined the European Economic Community in the 1970s. Though an UK-EU Brexit agreement was finally reached in December 2020, it's clear that there are still thorny issues that need to be resolved.

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