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Trump's Criticisms Of NATO Not Apparent As It Holds Largest War Games Since Cold War


NATO is holding its largest exercises since the Cold War. The war games in Norway involve all 29 NATO countries, 50,000 personnel and a U.S. aircraft carrier. NPR's Frank Langfitt is covering the joint military exercises and joins us from Trondheim in Norway. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Ari. How are you doing?

SHAPIRO: I'm good. I know you've been out with U.S. Marines and on a warship today. Tell us about what you saw.

LANGFITT: Yeah. I was out on the USS Iwo Jima. It's an amphibious ship. It has a big flight deck, and the U.S. Marines were actually launching heavy trucks on huge hovercraft. And it was really striking, Ari. It was in the middle of a fjord, snow-capped mountains, and they were - what they were trying to do is to get vehicles on shore to support thousands of troops in war games south of here tomorrow. Now, yesterday, we saw jets, ships, tanks from Germany, the U.S., Britain and Norway and lots of other countries all coordinating a mock assault on the shoreline here.

SHAPIRO: Why is NATO mobilizing in such a big way right now?

LANGFITT: You can't ignore the context. NATO spent many years, as we all know, focused on counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. But after Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, NATO seems to be refocusing more on its roots back here in Europe. Now, the war games that they are staging right now has NATO forces defending a country that's been attacked by an unnamed invader. And what they're really trying to emphasize here is a pillar of NATO, which is if one country is attacked, it's seen as an attack on all NATO members. Now, most assume this fictitious invader is Russia. And earlier this fall, Russia had massive war games in the east, and now it seems to be NATO's turn.

SHAPIRO: These huge military maneuvers by NATO and the Russians makes it sound like we're returning to something like the Cold War. Is there talk of that there in Norway where you are?

LANGFITT: Actually, Ari, they're very careful to say this is not a new Cold War, but they also admit, you know, the global landscape has changed and NATO's showing strength. I was on the ship today speaking with U.S. Admiral James Foggo. He's head of NATO Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy. And he said this is one of the messages.

ADMIRAL JAMES FOGGO: We can no longer expect to operate in the area of the North Atlantic with impunity. So we may be challenged. And so if we are challenged, we will respond to that challenge.

LANGFITT: So what Admiral Foggo's saying is, you know, if anybody's thinking of challenging NATO, they need - frankly, they need to think twice.

SHAPIRO: And, of course, President Trump has not been as firm about the U.S. commitment to NATO as some of his predecessors. I mean, he's publicly berated some NATO member countries for not spending enough on defense. Is that tension playing out as these exercises unfold?

LANGFITT: No, certainly not on the surface. And there's a real emphasis on unity here and the United States' heavy commitment. We have 7,500 Marines here. I was talking to Jens Stoltenberg. He's the NATO secretary general. He says there's a difference between the political rhetoric you hear and actually the troops on the ground.

JENS STOLTENBERG: What we see is that the United States is increasing its presence - military presence - in Europe with more forces, more exercises, more prepositioned equipment. For a first time, there are also U.S. Marines here in Norway.

LANGFITT: Yeah, so the message here is the United States is still very, very engaged in NATO.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt joining us from Norway. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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