While NATO heads of states are meeting in their newest headquarters to discuss increasing defense budget spending, leading peace activists from around the world are gathered for a counter-summit to advocate for less militarization.
Military spending will be one of the issues topping the NATO summit agenda Thursday in Brussels. Increasing defense spending to 2 percent of GDP is a requirement for member countries, but only five of the 28 abide by this rule.
President Donald Trump has been vocal since his campaign that other member states need to meet the budget obligation.
Elsewhere in Brussels, more than 100 international peace activists are holding their own summit, focusing not only on less military spending, but on completely phasing out NATO over a number of years.
Ingeborg Breines of International Peace Bureau says the arguments against NATO are economic, social and environmental.
“We think that the costs are so high for the military that we don’t have the means to cater to the means of people. The effects of societies of war are that they migrate by need. And ecologically, we misuse national resources such as minerals and energy and dig oils to keep the military machine going.”
The U.S. president had called NATO “obsolete” during his campaign, but said in April that NATO has been the “bulwark of international peace and security.”
Left-wing French politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who wanted France to leave NATO, received close to 20 percent of the vote during the first round of presidential elections there a month ago; a study by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center, however, shows citizens of most NATO countries are in favor of the military alliance.
Ann Wright is a retired U.S. army colonel and former diplomat. She resigned over the Iraq war in 2003 and is now part of Veterans for Peace. Wright is worried about the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, although she admits it is unlikely NATO will ever disappear.
“If you look at the reduction in militarization of the world, we have been a failure. But there’s another way to look at this. I think it’s totally possible and there should be a huge reduction in the amount of money that’s spent by each of the nations. The increase that has happened since the annexation of Crimea by Russia is extraordinary.”
The day before the summit, a large demonstration was held in Brussels against President Trump's visit, but many signs at the protest also were critical of NATO.
The outcomes of the counter-summit and how to slowly phase out budgets for NATO are not shared with the heads of states as there is no interaction between the two, according to organizer Ludo De Brabander.
“Even if we would like to, it would be difficult. I don’t think these kinds of summits take us very serious. Because we have messages that are really very much opposed to what their aims are. But we organize this because it’s very important to inform the population," said De Brabander. "If we do a demonstration, it’s a very public event. And for us its very important to tell people what NATO really is. And that it’s not in the interest of the population to have an organization such as NATO.”
The counter-summits have been organized since 2009, always coinciding with the bloc's summits.
With NATO having just agreed to increase support to the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, it’s likely that military budgets are staying even or increasing. NATO accounts for more than half of all money that is spent world wide on military budgets. And the new headquarters, inaugurated at the summit on Thursday, was reported to have cost over $1 billion.