Nato is facing an uncertain future

A Nato flag
A Nato flag

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) was born out of the rubble of the Second World War and consolidated just as a conflict broke out on the Korean peninsula, 75 years ago. The anniversary is to be marked at a summit in Washington this week, with the alliance under greater pressure than at any other time in its history. It will also mark the first foreign foray by Sir Keir Starmer, and the host, Joe Biden, will be watched closely for any further signs of impairment to his faculties.

The alliance has much to celebrate this week. It will welcome Sweden into its ranks as the 32nd member of the club, an expansion brought about by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, occasioned by Moscow’s hostility to its efforts to join Nato.

The European member states are now spending more on their own security, with 23 now meeting the target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence. Just a few years ago, only three did so. Pressure from America, starting with president Obama and increasing under Donald Trump, has made Europe face up to its obligations.

But the obvious threat from Russia means the continental members will have to do even more. Sir Keir has committed to spending 2.5 per cent on defence, but only “as soon as resources allow”, and without defining when that might be.

Yet the most important development regarding the future of Nato will not take place at this summit, but at the ballot box in November. The possible re-election of Donald Trump to the US presidency could bring Nato under unprecedented pressure.

The former president does not favour spending increasing sums on Ukraine’s defence, most of which has been provided by America. Moreover, when he was asked if he would withdraw from Nato, Mr Trump made no commitment either way.

Some European countries, such as Germany, are also lukewarm about supporting Ukraine’s accession to Nato. Hungary’s leader, Viktor Orban, even visited Putin in Moscow last week, a meeting that has been heavily criticised by EU leaders.

Diplomatic observers seriously doubt Mr Trump would take the US out of Nato, but he might seek to push Ukraine into agreeing a deal with Russia that allows Vladimir Putin to keep some of the land it has taken.

This week’s summit will issue statements in support of Ukraine and pledge to continue supporting Kyiv for as long as it takes. But until the presidency is decided later this year, the future is uncertain.