The streets of central Brussels are quiet on Sunday morning as peace activists arrive in a small conference hall near Luxembourg Square. Last year the overall atmosphere in the city was tense, as a counter-summit was held on the same date as the main NATO meeting. Back then, Belgian authorities introduced tough security measures, putting armed soldiers on the streets, as Donald Trump was on his first official visit to the city, which he had called “a hellhole” while running for office.
This time peace activists decided to get together several days ahead of the leaders’ meeting to talk about the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the role it plays in the modern world.
Following Saturday's protests, peace activists gathered in Brussels for a counter-summit to discuss NATO's policies. Among participants are delegates from Belgium, Germany, the US, Spain, even some Russian Europeans who are tired of anti-Russian mainstream media campaign. pic.twitter.com/376JdMPXcO— Denis Bolotsky (@BolotskySputnik) July 8, 2018
Reiner Braun is the Co-President of the International Peace Bureau and one of the organizers of the Brussels counter-summit. Like many other activists, Braun is concerned with military spending – something that NATO leaders will be discussing this year:
"The first point of this meeting is the “2 percent GDP for military spending”, which is, from our understanding, a totally stupid idea. Why should European countries spend billions of dollars for military purposes, when we need money for social welfare, for health care, for education, for science? It is a wrong way for solving global problems."
Just like last year, peace activists criticized Donald Trump for his tough policies, but at the same time, there was also something new, as some of them expressed cautious optimism over Washington's peace initiatives on the Korean Peninsula. Reiner Braun says that the beginning of dialogue between North and South Korea is a good sign:
"Talks are always better than using weapons. So I’m in favor – in any conflict – of dialogue and negotiations. I’m happy about the talks between South Koreans and North Koreans. I think this could be a way out of [the] “un-normal situation” when both countries in reality are in war."
Nevertheless, Braun added that he’s skeptical about the possibility of Pyongyang abandoning its nuclear program entirely, since North Korean leaders know very well what happened to the Libyan and Iraqi leaders, who trusted Western politicians.
Ludo de Brabander, who is also one of the organizers of the counter-summit and a spokesman for Belgium’s Vrede peace movement, says that the idea of dismantling nuclear arsenals is gaining popularity:
Ludo de Brabander from Belgium's Vrede peace movement: EU/NATO's anti-Russia sanctions policy is "self-fulfilling prophecy", hypocritical. It's used to push Russia, create Russian threat, get more money for militarization. pic.twitter.com/ZftZZ5cmmF— Denis Bolotsky (@BolotskySputnik) July 8, 2018
"Recently we also did a poll on nuclear arms and most people, the majority, is against nuclear arms. It’s our task to put it into public debate, and this is one of the discussions we should have."
The meeting is likely to be affected by recent disagreements between the US and its allies, and by the controversy surrounding Washington's current economic policy.
Although on many occasions US officials have confirmed their commitment to cooperation with NATO allies, Donald Trump has made several controversial statements about the alliance in the past – both as a candidate and while in office, and later demanded that all member states fulfill their pledge to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense.