Brussels: Australia has volunteered to join a new NATO-led mission in Iraq to improve the country’s military academies, aimed at preventing the return of ISIS or a resurgence of terrorism.
The mission, launched at the NATO leaders summit in Brussels on Wednesday, will “train the trainers” who teach Iraqi soldiers how to counter suicide bombers and detect, defuse and dispose of the improvised explosives used by terrorists.
It will also cover military medicine, armoured vehicle maintenance and civil-military planning – the co-ordination of military and civilian operations in areas such as post-war reconstruction, emergency planning and the protection of critical infrastructure.
NATO put together the mission, which will be led by Canada and involve several hundred NATO trainers, after a request from the Iraqi government for more help in building its capacity to fight off terrorists in the long term.
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said Europe’s security was threatened by instability to its south and east.
“We strongly believe that prevention is better than intervention,” he said. “The best way to prevent NATO allies being pressed back into combat operations in Iraq is to make sure Iraqi forces are able to prevent ISIS from coming back.”
Australia, alongside Finland and Sweden, had made “early commitments as operational partners” in the mission, according to a declaration released on Wednesday.
Fairfax understands that Australia’s contribution will be two trainers to work at the mission headquarters in Iraq. The government will characterise it as a “small but meaningful” contribution to the mission.
The launch of the mission was a more positive end to the first day of a summit that began with a barrage of broadsides from US President Donald Trump, who attacked Germany’s role in a proposed new gas pipeline from Russia, which he implied was a security risk for the West.
Trump said Germany was “captive” to Russia because of its reliance on their gas, claiming it would be getting 60 to 70 per cent of its energy from NATO’s aggressive opponent after a new pipeline was built.
Iraq army recruits, pictured training in Baghdad, will benefit from a small increase in Australian involvement aimed at deterring Islamic State.
However the figures were later disputed, with one expert telling CNN the figure was more like 37%, growing to 40% in the next few years – and suggesting that Trump was angling for Germany to buy the United States’ more expensive gas.
Trump is not the only person concerned about the security implications of the new pipeline, which would bypass countries such as Ukraine and Poland and potentially leave them more vulnerable to Russian influence.
Trump also complained bitterly and repeatedly about the lack of defence spending in Europe compared with the amount the US was spending to help protect its allies.
President Donald Trump, first lady Melania and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for a group photo of NATO leaders in Brussels.
In 2014 the defence pact members pledged to get each of their defence spends up to 2% of their GDP, however only eight of the 29 members have reached or exceeded this figure four years later, and just over half have plans to do so by 2024.
Trump said his allies were “delinquent” and the situation had to be made more fair.
At the closed door meeting of NATO leaders, Trump demanded the allies change their target to 4% of GDP – higher even than current US expenditure.
But Stoltenberg chose to put a positive spin on the row, saying NATO had managed to overcome many disagreements in the past, such as the Suez crisis and Iraq war. He said European countries were “adding billions” to their defence budgets after years of cuts, and last year saw the biggest increase in defence spending since the end of the Cold War.
German chancellor Angela Merkel pointed out Germany’s strong commitment to Afghanistan where it is one of the biggest contributors of troops to the coalition and was defending the interests of America.
Trump struck a more conciliatory tone after a private meeting with Merkel, which he said had been a "great" meeting.
"We have a very, very good relationship with the chancellor, we have a tremendous relationship with Germany," Trump said.
Merkel said the US and Germany were "good partners".
According to NATO’s latest figures, the US spends by far the most of the NATO allies on defence as a proportion of GDP: 3.5 per cent. This is down from a peak of 5.29 per cent in 2009, when the financial crisis temporarily savaged the country’s economic output without commensurate defence cuts.
The US is followed by Greece on 2.3 per cent, Estonia and the UK on 2.1 per cent, and Latvia on 2 per cent.
Three more countries: Poland, Lithuania and Romania, are expected to hit 2 per cent this year.
Germany spends 1.2 per cent of its GDP on defence, and the worst performers are Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg who all spend less than 1 per cent.
But, although the US has the biggest defence budget, the argument over NATO burden sharing is not straightforward. The US spends more than twice on defence than all its NATO allies combined, but only 5 per cent of that is spent on European defence.
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