As the 25th of May rapidly approaches, NATO seems to be reworking its usual summit to suit the notoriously short attention span of US President Donald Trump.
According to Foreign Policy, the organisation is telling the heads of state of the 27 member countries to shorten their talks to 2 to 4 minutes.
The alliance has also scrapped plans to publish the traditional formal meeting declaration.
The official reason: unlike precedents such as the Warsaw gathering of 2016, Brussels is not hosting a full summit, and the meeting is tailored to be more focused. Behind closed doors, however, officials gave Foreign Policy another reason: “they’re worried Trump won’t like it.”
As NATO scrambles to prepare a gathering fit for Donald Trump, the President’s level of interest remains unclear. After dismissing the organisation as “obsolete” during his campaign, Trump went back on his statement during a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in April.
No longer obsolete, the alliance remains on edge: “the President’s erratic policy shifts and surprise Twitter storms on other international issues have NATO jittery,” stated a former senior NATO official to Foreign Policy.
The former British ambassador to Washington, Peter Westmacott, explained to the New York Times that there were three things to bear in mind in meetings with Trump: “this is a guy who likes to win,” who has a pragmatic sense of deal making, and a short attention span.
On the other hand, his preference for one-to-one diplomacy also requires a focus on personal interaction and chemistry, states the same paper.
Beyond the issue of successfully entertaining the President enough to capture his attention, however, two serious political issues need discussing: counterterrorism and burden sharing.
The US is pushing for NATO’s involvement in the Counter-Islamic State coalition, while officials tell Foreign Policy that Germany remains sceptical to the idea.
Though NATO members are committed at the national level, the alliance is not yet an official member of the coalition.
On the other hand, Trump maintains the position that NATO does not share enough of the burden of defence spending.
The President’s suggestion that the alliance needs to have its arm twisted on the matter has not been well received in Europe. The allies signed a pledge in 2014 to increase defence spending long before Trump gave his opinion, explains Tomáš Valášek, the former Slovakian ambassador to NATO, to Politico.
Unfortunately, Donald Trump’s signature style is not subtlety. NATO, brace yourself.