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NATO Chief Warns Alliance Should Not Be Underestimated

NATO’s top official is signaling that it would be a mistake to see the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan or simmering tensions between France and the United States as a weakening of the trans-Atlantic alliance. 

Instead, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned would-be adversaries that NATO will remain unified and resolute against a growing number of threats from old adversaries and new ones. 

“Questions are being asked about the strength of the bond between Europe and North America,” Stoltenberg told an audience at Georgetown University in Washington following a series of meetings with top U.S. officials. 

“They do not change the big picture,” he said. “We do not know what the next crisis will be, but we do know that whatever happens, we are safer when we stand together.” 

Specifically, Stoltenberg pushed back against charges that U.S. President Joe Biden cast aside NATO allies when he decided to make good on the previous U.S. administration deal to pull American troops from Afghanistan. 

“The idea that the United States did not consult is wrong,” Stoltenberg said. “That’s factually wrong.” 

The NATO leader also said that while France was “disappointed” by a new security pact between the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia — the so-called AUKUS deal in which the U.S. and the U.K. will share technology with Australia to help it build nuclear-powered submarines — “NATO allies agree on the big picture that we need to stand together also working with our Asia-Pacific partners.” 

“China has the second-largest defense budget in the world. They’re investing heavily in new military capabilities, including nuclear long-range weapons systems,” Stoltenberg said. “I expect that the upcoming new strategic concept for NATO will actually reflect a much more comprehensive and unified position on how to relate to China.” 

But the NATO secretary-general saved his toughest talk for Russia, warning that relations between NATO and Moscow are “at the lowest point since the end of the Cold War.” 

“They have deployed new, advanced weapon systems. They have violated one of the cornerstones of arms control, the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty) that banned all intermediate-range weapon systems,” he said. “And we have seen a more aggressive Russia abroad, in many places, and then a more repressive Russia at home.” 

And Stoltenberg went even further, appearing to chastise Moscow for its stance on NATO enlargement, specifically its opposition to membership for Georgia and Ukraine. 

“It is the right for any sovereign nation to decide its own path. The whole idea that it’s a provocation to Russia that small neighbors join NATO is absolutely wrong,” he said. “That’s the provocation, that anyone is saying that.” 

Stoltenberg declined to say when Georgia or Ukraine might gain NATO membership, calling it a matter for the two countries and the alliance, and “no one else.” 

Stoltenberg also said that during his time in Washington, specifically during his meeting Monday with Biden, he pushed for NATO members to do more to help aspiring members. 

“We need to step up and do more for those aspirant countries, because as long as they are not members, we should provide more support, more training, more capacity building, help them implement reforms, fight corruption and build the security and defense institutions,” Stoltenberg said.

“We need to establish that there is a lot in between nothing and full membership,” he added. 

A White House readout of Monday’s meeting said the two leaders, “discussed the international security environment and NATO’s ongoing efforts to safeguard Transatlantic defense.” 

It also said Biden “reaffirmed his strong support for NATO and the importance of bolstering deterrence and defense against strategic competitors and transnational threats.” 

 

US Lawmakers Pillory Social Media Giant Facebook

Key U.S. lawmakers pilloried social media giant Facebook on Tuesday after Frances Haugen, an inside whistleblower who once worked at the company, alleged that Facebook’s products are harming young people, undermining democracy and helping to divide the country politically. 

Haugen, who worked as a Facebook project manager for less than two years, held Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg responsible for prioritizing concerns about company profits over controlling online content on its various platforms, including Instagram. 

Haugen testified before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection a day after Facebook had encountered hourslong technical issues that left millions of users wondering why they could not access the site and its other platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp. 

“I don’t know why it went down,” Haugen said, “but I know that for more than five hours, Facebook wasn’t used to deepen divides, destabilize democracies, and make young girls and women feel bad about their bodies” with the posting of glamorous pictures of models, pop singers and Hollywood starlets. 

Democratic and Republican lawmakers, in a rare show of political unanimity in Washington, quickly castigated Facebook and panned Zuckerberg for a recent sailing trip while controversy engulfed his company. They promised to enact tighter controls on social media. 

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut contended, “The damage to self-interest and self-worth inflicted by Facebook today will haunt a generation. Our children are the ones who are victims. Teens today looking in the mirror feel doubt and insecurity. Mark Zuckerberg ought to be looking at himself in the mirror.” 

He said, “Big Tech now faces the Big Tobacco jaw-dropping moment of truth.” 

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee declared that Facebook “is not interested in making significant changes to improve kids’ safety on their platforms, at least not when that would result in losing eyeballs on posts or decreasing their ad revenues.” 

“It is clear that Facebook prioritizes profit over the well-being of children and all users,” she said. 

Other lawmakers accused Facebook of helping to foment the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, when hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed into the building to try to prevent lawmakers from declaring that Democrat Joe Biden had won last November’s election. 

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said, “When they allowed 99% of violent content to remain unchecked on their platform, including the lead-up to the January 6 insurrection, what did they do? Now we know Mark Zuckerberg was going sailing.” 

While the hearing was ongoing, Facebook pushed back against Haugen and the onslaught of criticism. It said in a statement that Haugen had no other Facebook employees who reported to her, had never attended a decision-making meeting with top Facebook officials, and had acknowledged in her testimony at least six times she was being asked questions about aspects of the company she had not worked on. 

“We don’t agree with her characterization of the many issues she testified about,” Facebook said. 

“Despite all this,” Facebook said, “we agree on one thing; it’s time to begin to create standard rules for the internet. It’s been 25 years since the rules for the internet have been updated, and instead of expecting the industry to make societal decisions that belong to legislators, it is time for Congress to act.”

Haugen acknowledged that she was the one who provided the documents used in a Wall Street Journal investigation of Facebook. 

Some information for this report came from Reuters.