NATO’S 29th summit held in Brussels on July 11-12 cannot be viewed as a normal activity because the event marked noticeable split in the almost 70 years old Atlantic alliance. Again, like the G-7 summit held last month in Quebec, Canada, the NATO summit also witnessed the intransigence and bellicose attitude of US President Donald Trump. The 79 point declaration of 29 member NATO summit called for establishing a new training mission for Iraq, invitation granted to Macedonia to join NATO and more funds for supporting forces in war-torn Afghanistan. Fragility in the Atlantic alliance is not a new phenomenon. In 2003, when the United States and Britain decided to act unilaterally against Iraq under the pretext of weapons of mass destruction, the two key NATO members, France and Germany vehemently opposed the US-led invasion. Lack of consensus in NATO on attacking Iraq is just one example of rifts within the Atlantic alliance. The Brussels summit exposed NATO’s fragility and American criticism over what President Trump called the failure of key NATO members like France and Germany to share the costs of maintaining security of Europe with the US fairly. According to the reports, “Donald Trump’s portrayal of NATO as an alliance in crisis has raised concerns that the US President’s nagging criticism might erode public support and risk America’s commitment to collective defence.”As long as Germany and France are able to maintain their unity, they will be able to withstand crises within the transatlantic alliance. However, if Germany is politically unstable and populism surges in France, the future of NATO will be at stakeIn a news conference on the second day of the NATO summit, Trump augmented his Europe bashing by accusing the EU of not spending enough on defence, leaving the US to do all the work. According to him, “I think NATO’s very important — probably the greatest ever done. But the United States was paying for anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of it, depending on the way you calculate. Prior to last year where I attended my first meeting, it was going down, the amount of money being spent by countries was going down and down very substantially, and now it’s going up very substantially” Trump’s blame that NATO European members were paying less was however rebuffed with a counter argument that “in real dollars, European spending rose from about $ 254 billion in 2014 to $ 275 billion in 2017. That’s over an eight percent rise in three years.” The fragility of the Atlantic alliance is not merely related to conflict between its major members over defence spending. President Trump ridiculed Germany by stating that since Berlin was benefiting from importing energy from Russia, it toes Moscow’s line. The German Chancellor vehemently responded to this allegation, stating that, “I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union. I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany. Because of that, we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions. That is very good, especially for people in eastern Germany.” Spelling out the contributions of her country for NATO she further maintained that, “Germany is the second largest provider of troops, the largest part of our military capacity is offered to NATO and until today we have a strong engagement towards Afghanistan. In that we also defend the interests of the United States.”While the Warsaw Pact — a Soviet led communist alliance in Europe — died with the Cold War, NATO not only survived but was also further strengthened by new members. This included former Warsaw Pact countries. New threats in the shape of intra-state conflicts in former Yugoslavia, terrorism and the resurgence of Russia after its occupation of Crimea provided new strategic and security dimension to the military alliance. Yet, rifts within the Atlantic alliance deepened as a result of the US led attack over Iraq in March 2003 to the extent that the then American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sarcastically dubbed members of NATO opposing the US invasion of Iraq as representing old Europe and those supporting American attack over Iraq as new Europe. Old Europe, according to Rumsfeld comprised France and Germany and new Europe composed of former members of the Warsaw Pact like Hungary and Poland. The polarization which existed at the time of American invasion over Iraq in March 2003 remained on the horizon but during the tenure of President Barack Obama from 2009 till 2006, transatlantic relations became more balanced and normal. Two major realities exist when one tries to analyse the depth of fragility in transatlantic alliance. First, the US under the Trump administration is not only unwilling to pay for Europe’s military defence but is also critical of its trade relations with the EU. Second, as long as Germany and France are able to maintain their unity, they will be able to withstand crises within the transatlantic alliance. However, if Germany is politically unstable and populism surges in France, the future of NATO will be at stake.The London Economist in its July 7 issue rightly stated in an article titled, “Transatlantic rift” that, “NATO is more fragile than Mr Trump thinks. At its core is the pledge to treat an attack on one member in the North Atlantic region as an attack on them all. His vacillation and his hostility to Europe weakens that promise, if only because it reveals his scorn for the idea that small countries have the same rights as big ones”. Furthermore, The Economist argues that, “every alliance has its tensions but the Western one is strained on a bewildering number of fronts. Mr Trump and his generals are exasperated by the feeble efforts of many NATO members to honour their promise to raise defence spending towards 2 percent of their GDP by 2024. The American right tends to condemn European support for the Iranian nuclear deal. And policy makers from both sides thin that as the world’s attention shifts to Asia, whining sanctimonious Europeans deserve less of their time.” President Trump lamented less spending by NATO’s European members on defence and demanded at least 4 percent of their GDP, which was not endorsed by NATO. NATO is the only major military alliance in the post-Cold War era and tries to play a leadership role in dealing with multiple security threats including cyber-terrorism and aggressive Russian posturing. Ironically, Trump is least concerned about the growing Russian surge and its threats to NATO, causing serious concerns among other NATO members.It is time NATO addressed its internal contradictions and fault lines before it is too late and the alliance degenerates.The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.orgPublished in Daily Times, July 20th 2018.