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Spot the difference: friends, freeloaders, partners, rivals, frenemies and enemies

We won't go until we get some. Source: Reuters

Donald Trump is in Brussels surrounded by unhappy faces and that’s not just Belgian soccer fans. The US president is attending the summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the rumble started before the first round of coffee.

Is Germany a “captive” of Russia, as Trump put it to NATO’s secretary general in a morning tirade? He called it “very inappropriate” that Germany had made gas and oil deals with Russia, saying Berlin should spend more on defense immediately. That comes on the back of a tweet last night suggesting America’s defense of Europe was linked to getting a better deal for US farmers and workers.

He’s right about the money, pretty much, though a closer look suggests the largest part of US defense spending is dedicated to its own interests, too. Likewise in European countries, it’s not a black and white issue how much money put aside for defense is dedicated to NATO and how much to other operations abroad.

But who’s a captive of whom? A succinct reminder came from the European Council president, Donald Tusk, who tweeted to Trump that the “US doesn’t have and won’t have a better ally than EU. We spend on defense much more than Russia and as much as China. I hope you have no doubt this is an investment in our security, which cannot be said with confidence about Russian & Chinese spending.”

Mr. Trump may be distracted by the prospect of deal making. Trump said yesterday he “can’t say right now” if Putin is a friend or foe, but called him a “competitor.” Vlad might talk sweet, Mr. Trump, but that doesn’t mean he’s a good guy. He might be the “easiest meeting,” as Trump also put it. But the nature of attacks are changing: The real question is how far NATO members are prepared for a form of combat that goes beyond tanks to span cyber warfare and political interference. This is less black and white than spending, and less about cash than energy policy – but worthy of attention.

As deserving of consideration are the families whose relatives were killed by the right-wing terror cell the NSU. The five-year trial of Beate Zschäpe, a surviving member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Underground, ended with her found guilty in the murder of 10 people from 2000 to 2007 and sentenced to life in prison. The pain of relatives is compounded by the racist assumptions that led to delays in the investigation of the murders, meaning clues were lost. The crimes, and the following years of bungling and legal obfuscation, make the trial a disgraceful reflection of investigators’ failure to acknowledge right-wing terror in Germany. Racism remains a problem among officials and broader society.

Incompetence by the German authorities continues to endanger lives in other ways, too. The overworked staff in the country’s financial intelligence unit means clues about potential terror attacks may be going overlooked. The year-old department has now been described as a danger to domestic security and an out and out failure. Police are receiving leads way too late due to backlogs and under staffing, even though lawmakers say the need to uncover dirty money is ever greater as the country’s booming real estate market becomes a prime channel for money laundering. It’s another job for the finance ministry to fix.

Meanwhile, as Brits joke that England’s team could come home with a trophy but no cabinet, the numerous surprises in this World Cup have upset sponsors too. Of the four teams in the semi-finals, only now-departed Belgium is sponsored by Adidas, of Germany, while the other three get money from Nike, the number two sports retailer and an arch rival. This, despite Adidas being the tournament’s official sponsor. In the words of a German commentator, “the ball is round.” It’s used to mean anything can happen. If you nod sagely as you say it, you can use this gem surprisingly often.

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