John Kerry reassures Europe of US commitment to Nato

US secretary of state seeks to calm anxiety over direction of foreign policy under Trump

US secretary of state John Kerry   receives the Federal Cross of Merit  award from German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier  in Berlin, Germany.  Photograph: Adam Berry/Getty

US secretary of state John Kerry receives the Federal Cross of Merit award from German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin, Germany. Photograph: Adam Berry/Getty

 

US secretary of state John Kerry moved to reassure his country’s European allies of the strength of the transatlantic alliance during a farewell tour of Europe. His remarks come amid anxiety across the Continent about the impact of US presidential-elect Donald Trump’s leadership on foreign policy.

Mr Kerry visited Berlin and Brussels in what is expected to be his final official visit to the Continent, six weeks before Mr Trump assumes office.

Mr Kerry joined Nato foreign ministers for a two-day meeting which commenced on Tuesday in Brussels. Among the discussion points at the meeting was further EU-Nato co-operation, with Nato endorsing new proposals to boost co-ordination between the EU and the Brussels-headquartered defence organisation. These included greater joint efforts on cybersecurity, sea missions, and fighting hybrid warfare – a strategy which involves elements of conventional warfare, guerilla tactics and online attacks.

Simultaneously, ambassadors in Brussels endorsed the proposals which have been under detailed discussion since the Nato summit in Warsaw in July when a communique on greater EU-Nato co-operation was signed.

According to the final text of the proposal, the EU agreed to further enhance its relationship with Nato “in light of those aims and values which we hold in common and given the unprecedented challenges facing both organisations.”

Ireland is one of six EU member states that is not a Nato member, but is understood to be happy with the final communique which acknowledges “the specific character of the security and defence policy of any member state.”

Array of challenges

The focus on greater EU-Nato co-operation comes amid a push for greater focus on EU defence and security across the European Union, as the bloc faces an array of challenges, from Russia to migration. Last week, the European Commission launched a European Defence Action Plan which aims to boost spending on defence across the EU and enhance collaboration between member states on security measures.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg will attend next week’s EU leaders’ summit in Brussels where defence and security is expected to be a key topic.

Against a background of growing anxiety across Europe about the future direction of US foreign policy under Mr Trump, Mr Kerry sought to reassure allies about Washington’s commitment to Nato.

Mr Trump has previously questioned the US commitment to supporting eastern European members of the alliance which are concerned about Russian power in the region following the country’s annexation of Crimea and incursion into Ukraine.

The European Union is due to consider next week rolling-over sanctions against Russia which were introduced in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. Typically Washington has supported Brussels behind the scenes in its efforts, but Mr Trump’s previous indications of support for Russian president Vladamir Putin is causing uncertainty about the US position on Russia.

‘Unpredictable security environment’

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Stoltenberg said that Nato nations needed “to show the strength of the transatlantic bond,’’ especially during the current period “of more uncertainty and a more unpredictable security environment.” He reiterated his belief that the incoming US president would attend next year’s Nato summit in Brussels.

Arriving in Brussels, Mr Kerry, who is due to meet Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Hamburg on Wednesday, rejected suggestions from Mr Lavrov earlier on Tuesday that the US was delaying talks on a rebel withdrawal from Aleppo.

Russia and China on Monday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a seven-day ceasefire in Aleppo. Earlier, Mr Kerry, who received the Federal Cross of Merit from German foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, warned of growing anxiety across the world, noting that “governance is at risk and challenged.”

“You see it in the anxieties of Italy voiced yesterday or the anxieties of Austria, where the election came out a different way but the anxieties were there,” he said. “You see it in Brexit,” although the outgoing secretary of state stopped short of mentioning the recent election of Mr Trump.