Foreign and interior ministers from the Group of Seven have gathered in France this week to try to find ambitious solutions to world security challenges. Putting a dampener on that are two glaring American absences: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
The fact that ranking U.S. officials are skipping the Thursday-Saturday meetings in Paris and the Atlantic resort of Dinard raises questions about the G-7's relevance and effectiveness at solving the very international issues it has laid out as crucial, including fighting terrorism and human trafficking. U.S. President Donald Trump has made his disdain for the G-7 no secret, especially since Russia was pushed out of the gathering of major world economies after its annexation of Crimea in 2014. The U.S. absences signal that the Trump Administration has downgraded the group — which also includes France, Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy and the U.K. — in its list of priorities. Last June, Trump roiled the G-7 meeting in Canada by first agreeing to a group statement on trade only to withdraw from it while complaining that he had been blindsided by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's criticism of Trump's tariff threats at a news conference. In an extraordinary set of tweets aboard Air Force One, Trump threw the G-7 summit into disarray and threatened to escalate his trade war just as Canada released the G-7's official communique.
Pompeo is in Washington this week, far from French shores, hosting NATO's foreign ministers to mark the alliance's 70th anniversary. Nielsen is staying behind to deal with border issues in the U.S. In fact, alliances are fraying everywhere, even at NATO as Pompeo shines a spotlight on America's involvement in the military alliance. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledged internal NATO disagreements this week on trade, climate change and the Iran nuclear deal, but insisted the 29 allies are united in their commitment to defend each other.
As NATO deploys thousands of troops and equipment to deter Russia and seeks solutions to fast-evolving new threats such as cyberattacks and hybrid warfare, its biggest challenge arguably lies within. Trump's recurrent demand that countries devote an amount equal to at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to defense spending has become the biggest source of internal strain. In May 2017, Trump made a memorable impression on leaders from Canada and European nations during his first NATO summit. During a speech outside NATO's new Brussels headquarters, he publicly humiliated them. Trump also cast doubt on whether they could count on Washington to fulfill NATO's collective defense clause. Trump also delayed a summit last year with fresh demands on burden sharing.
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