London Showdown Looms for NATO Frenemies

Rosalind Mathieson
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London Showdown Looms for NATO Frenemies

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For movie fans, the words “Brain Dead” usually bring to mind a cult New Zealand zombie splatter flick directed by Peter Jackson.

It’s not the verbiage you’d expect leaders to be throwing around when the member states of NATO — Europe’s security umbrella since World War II — meet in London. But brain dead is exactly how French President Emmanuel Macron is describing the alliance as he questions its current direction and future relevance.

Macron is not the only one to watch. He and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan are sniping before the meeting even starts. Erdogan responded to Macron’s criticism of his move to send troops into Syria by describing the French leader as, wait for it....brain dead.

And that’s before we get to Donald Trump. The U.S. president has been a frequent critic of NATO, saying the U.S. carries too much of the cost burden of defending Europe. He has a penchant for off-the-cuff Tweets and comments about it. Still, he may be distracted this week by the hearings back home into his potential impeachment.

NATO has survived turbulent periods before. It retains strong support from Germany and others who see it as a way to knit together ideologically-different nations across Europe and prevent fresh conflicts.

But this week Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will have quite the task keeping everyone in line.

Global Headlines

Law and order | Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives are hammering home the message that they’re the party to keep the U.K. safe, just three days after a convicted terrorist killed two people near London Bridge. The NATO summit provides an opportunity to reinforce that — opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn is a lifelong antiwar campaigner who has criticized the alliance. Corbyn says the Tories’ spending cuts resulted in the prison service wrongly releasing the attacker.

Impeachment heats up | The U.S. House — faced with a sharply divided public, a compressed timetable and doubts about White House participation — this week begins the task of deciding whether to bring articles of impeachment against Trump. As the case moves to the Judiciary Committee, it’s a chance for the Democrats to synthesize weeks of testimony into a convincing narrative.

Click here for an explanation of the wild cards Trump would face during an impeachment trial in the Republican-led Senate.

Pulling punches | China vowed to sanction some American rights organizations and halt warship visits to Hong Kong in response to Trump’s decision to sign legislation supporting the city’s protesters. The move appeared designed to avoid further economic damage both to China, which is in trade talks with the U.S., and Hong Kong, which saw retail sales suffer a record drop in October as almost six months of unrest drags down growth.

The Maltese problem | Joseph Muscat has agreed to step down as prime minister after his closest aides were tied to a car bomb attack that killed an investigative journalist. But he does intend to stay in office until his party has picked a successor — in January at the earliest. That may not be good enough for those demanding a proper probe of suspected links between the murderers and the government.

Tough audience | Joe Biden is working to breathe new life into his campaign in Iowa, a state where he’s struggled to keep up with his competitors despite leading the crowded 2020 field of Democratic contenders in most national polls. Biden kicked off an eight-day bus tour on the weekend that focuses on rural areas, and he’s enlisting the help of a popular ex-governor.

What to Watch This Week

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition was thrown into crisis after the Social Democrats elected a new left-leaning leadership seen as a threat to the survival of the government. All eyes are on China as negotiators from nearly 200 nations head to Madrid for United Nations climate talks. Delegates are quietly building a legal framework to support money aimed at guiding the world in a greener direction. The U.S. will announce today what retaliatory action, if any, it will take in response to a digital tax France instituted this year that will hit large American tech companies. The Supreme Court hears arguments today on New York City’s curbs on the transportation of licensed handguns, the first time in more than a decade it considers a case dealing with the reach of the Second Amendment. Russia’s eastward pivot deepened today with the opening of a pipeline that will deliver as much as 38 billion cubic meters of gas annually to China under a 30-year contract. Namibian President Hage Geingob has won a second term despite the worst performance yet for his party amid a stuttering economy.

Thanks to all who responded to our pop quiz Friday and congratulations to reader Lee Lambert, who was the first to name Crimea as the territory that Apple identified in its Maps application as part of Russia instead of Ukraine. Tell us how we’re doing or what we’re missing at

And finally ... Perhaps only in Japan can the cherry blossom become the source of political intrigue. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has seen his poll numbers slide in recent weeks amid questions about whether he rewarded supporters with invitations to a publicly funded party to behold the botanical beauty of Japan’s national flower. The scandal deepened after revelations that key documents including the guest list were shredded.


--With assistance from Daniel Ten Kate, Brendan Scott, Alex Morales and Ben Sills.

To contact the author of this story: Rosalind Mathieson in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kathleen Hunter at

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