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Leaders: Tweets, tariffs don't shake NATO, NORAD alliances

April 8, 2018 Updated: April 9, 2018 at 5:16 am
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President Donald Trump with Vice President Mike Pence, speaks during a news conference in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Brewing trade wars under President Donald Trump and foreign policy changes issued on Twitter haven't shaken America's strongest alliances, the heads of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Canada's Ministry of Defense said during a gathering at U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's secretary general, said the United States under Trump has shown a deepened commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance as its 29 member nations face an increasingly aggressive Russia and continuing terrorism concerns.

"The U.S. commitment to NATO is rock solid," Stoltenberg said before heading off to briefings on Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

Stoltenberg, former Norwegian prime minister, and Harjit Singh Sajjan, who heads Canada's military, came to Colorado Springs in a nod to NORAD's upcoming anniversary and to learn more about how U.S. and Canadian troops work together at Peterson Air Force base to protect the continent from threats ranging from nuclear missiles to terror plots.

"It's great to be here as we approach the 60th anniversary of this unique and special partnership," Sajjan said. NORAD turns 60 in May.

Their kind words toward America come after Trump and others in the administration, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have worked to smooth relations with Canada and NATO after earlier flaps launched on Twitter and on the 2016 campaign trail.

Trump has criticized NATO's members for relying too heavily on the United States for protection, at several points saying the allies should help the United States foot the bill for its Defense Department.

The president last week took credit for boosting defense budgets across Europe, but still castigated some NATO members.

"They have to pay their share, and we will enjoy a more safe and prosperous future," he said.

Last month, Trump threatened Canada with steel and aluminum tariffs while calling the North American Free Trade Agreement unfair.

"Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed," Trump said on Twitter.

The White House later demurred on the tariffs as the two nations seek to rewrite the continental trade pact.

Stoltenberg said he's not worried about what Trump says on Twitter because he's seen what the United States has done to show its allegiance to the alliance.

"Even more important than words are actions," Stoltenberg said. "What we see is the U.S. and Canada are increasing their presence in Europe."

That commitment includes the recent deployment of Fort Carson's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, which returned home last fall after nine months of military exercises that saw its troops work with NATO allies from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

"For me, that's the strongest possible proof that the United States remains committed to our trans-Atlantic bond," Stoltenberg said.

The high-level visit gave NATO and Canada a chance to showcase their commitment to U.S. security.

Stoltenberg said one of the things he wanted to see in Colorado Springs was Northern Command's missile defense operation. The command, in conjunction with the 100th Missile Defense Brigade, controls a fleet of anti-missile interceptors in California and Alaska that are designed to take out incoming ballistic missiles.

With recent Russian saber-rattling about that nation's latest ballistic missiles and threats of missile attacks from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Stoltenberg emphasized that missiles launched at the United States or Canada "affect the whole alliance."

But NATO is increasingly focused on far more subtle threats. Computer warfare from all quarters, along with election meddling and propaganda campaigns tied to the Kremlin, have drawn increasing attention at NATO headquarters in Brussels and the Canadian Defense Ministry in Ottawa.

"We have to look at cyberspace and we have to look at the information space," Sajjan said.

Canada has increased its cybersecurity efforts, and Stoltenberg said the alliance is growing its ability to counter computer warfare threats.

NATO has also decided that computer warfare attacks can trigger the collective security agreement, making the cyber-attacker subject to retaliation from all of the alliance's 29 member nations.

On information warfare, including social media campaigns that U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia used to target U.S. voters with disinformation ahead of the 2016 election, Stoltenberg said new tools aren't required.

Instead, he pointed to old ones: the truth and a free and independent press that can share the truth.

The press that's prevalent in democracies, Stoltenberg said, has long served as a defense against the lies peddled by totalitarian states.

"We should not respond to propaganda with propaganda, but with truth," he said. "The truth will prevail."

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