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Advance Of Summit, NATO Pacify Trump

NATO also plans to consider a Franco-German proposal

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Flags of NATO member countries
Flags of NATO member countries are seen at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. VOA

As Britain prepares for the NATO leaders’ meeting outside London December 3-4, the alliance said Thursday it had agreed to redistribute costs and cut the U.S. contribution to its central budget.

NATO’s central budget is relatively small at around $2.5 billion a year, mostly covering headquarters operations and staff, and different than its defense budget. U.S. President Donald Trump often complains of inequitable burden-sharing, with only nine of the 29 member countries meeting the 2%  of gross domestic product target for the alliance’s defense spending.

Regarding the central budget, “The U.S. will pay less, Germany will pay more, so now the U.S. and Germany will pay the same,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Paris Thursday.

The United States currently pays about 22% of NATO’s central budget. Beginning 2021, both U.S. and Germany will contribute about 16%.

NATO also plans to consider a Franco-German proposal to create a working group of “respected figures” to discuss reform in the alliance and address concerns about its future.

The announcement to reduce the American contribution is seen as a move to placate Trump, who has considered withdrawing from the alliance but has since taken credit for its promised reforms.

“In 2016, only four allies spent 2%  of GDP on defense,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday, adding that there are now nine countries, including the U.S.,  meeting the 2% target, with 18 expected to do so by 2024.

“This is tremendous progress, and I think it is due to the president’s diplomatic work,” he said.

 U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting NATO
A convoy of U.S. vehicle is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. VOA

Internal strife

Leaders of the 29 member states will attempt a show of unity during the summit but the alliance is facing questioning about its relevance and unity, particularly after the October withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting NATO.

“It’s exactly in the wake of that decision that you had [French] President [Emmanuel] Macron say what he said about the alliance being ‘brain-dead’ and referencing the lack of American leadership in the sense of leading in a community and not just going out on your own,” said Gary Schmitt, a NATO analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.

U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Syria prompted Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. The move spurred Macron to vent his frustration over what French diplomats say is NATO’s lack of coordination at a political level, and triggered fear among allies that the assault will undermine the battle against Islamic State militants.

Meanwhile, a simmering war between Russia and Ukraine has become the backdrop of Trump’s impeachment, with the American president allegedly having withheld hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate running against Trump. Kyiv needs the aid to counter Moscow’s aggression.

The two conflicts in Europe’s eastern and southern flank further complicate Washington’s already-strained relations with other NATO members. Meanwhile, despite American efforts to reassure European leaders of Washington’s continuing commitment, anxiety about U.S. neglect of NATO under Trump persists, said Hans Kundnani, Senior Research Fellow in the Europe Program at Chatham House.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, left, welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine. VOA

Kundnani noted a series of American officials who have come to reassure Europeans not to take Trump’s tweets too seriously and focus on what is happening on the ground, particularly the military reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank. Still, Kundnani said that in the last year Europeans have started to realize it’s “not really good enough” and they’re now facing the “reality of the of the crisis in NATO.”

“Some of them are hoping that Trump will be out of office in in a year’s time but the real fear is that Trump wins a second term,” said Kundnani, adding that some Europeans are hoping that “U.S. gradual withdrawal from Europe” might “snap back to the status quo ante if Trump is not re-elected.”

Diverging European responses

“The upcoming celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary will be marked by important divisions within the alliance — not just across the Atlantic, but also within Europe,” said Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

In Paris, the view is “strategic autonomy,” said Donfried, with many in France concluding that Washington’s security guarantee can no longer be relied on. Warsaw is promoting “strategic embrace”  developing close bilateral relationship with Trump to guarantee its own security, while Berlin is advocating “strategic patience.”

Germany in the middle is a little bit divided between the “Atlanticists” and the “post-Atlanticists,”   Kundani said, adding that “Europeans are very much arguing” about these approaches.

Donfried said that against this backdrop, NATO allies are approaching the London summit with a sense of foreboding, knowing that they carry the responsibility to articulate alliance’s common purpose and ongoing relevance.

“If they don’t, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will be raising a glass in Moscow to the fraught state of the alliance at 70,” she said.

Another summit goal for most European leaders, is to simply avoid a Trump flare-up, like those that have happened in past meetings.

NATO meetings
President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, New York. VOA

Many have discovered this can be achieved through flattery. “They can talk about all the things that they’ve done and very smartly suggest that President Trump has generated the kind of pressure to make those things happen,” Schmitt said.

“They can actually praise President Trump, even though this is very hard for them to do because of the personality clashes.”

Many will be watching Trump’s encounters with Macron, including their bilateral meeting, as well as with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson has pleaded for Trump to stay out of the upcoming British election during his London trip.

The senior administration official said that Trump is “aware of this” and “absolutely cognizant of not wading into other countries’ elections.”

ALSO READ: Trump Secure The Higher Ground On Criminal Justice Issues in 2020 Campaign

Other potential clashes are simmering too. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that Emmanuel Macron’s NATO “brain-death” warning reflects a “sick and shallow” understanding, telling the French president “you should check whether you are brain dead.”

The French foreign ministry has summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Paris to protest the statement. (VOA)

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Cyber Monday- The Online Shopping Holiday After Thanksgiving

US shoppers flock to internet for deals on cyber Monday

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Mobile shopping
A mobile screen displaying an online shopping website. Pixabay

By Michelle Quinn, Matt Dibble

Created 14 years ago, Cyber Monday, the online shopping holiday the Monday after Thanksgiving, seems like a relic from a different digital era.

Cyber Monday gained popularity as a day for eye-popping online sales, coming three days after Black Friday, traditionally the busiest day of the year for brick-and-mortar stores.

At the time, digital shopping was still new for many. Cyber Monday’s pitch was to get mall-weary U.S. consumers to use their workplace computers and employers’ internet connections to keep America’s holiday shopping frenzy going — online.

Today, online stores don’t really need the help of a special U.S. shopping day as they once did, retail experts say. Each year, digital sales slowly but surely eat into a bigger chunk of traditional store sales than they did a year earlier. Shopping on mobile phones is growing fast, particularly among younger consumers. Whether it be for smartphones, authentic watches or even other electronics, people usually prefer online shopping over physical shopping.

Now the entire Thanksgiving weekend is known by some retail experts as the Cyber Five. In one recent survey, 54 percent of U.S. consumers said they would do most of their holiday shopping online, according to The Washington Post.

Online shopping
Today, online stores don’t really need the help of a special U.S. shopping day as they once did. Pixabay

“This Cyber Monday we will see more and more sales,” said Mark Lewis, CEO of Netalico, an e-commerce consulting firm. “More and more people will migrate to shopping online than shopping in stores.”

Online shopping pros, cons

Online shopping can be convenient and fast but also tedious and impersonal.

In-person shopping can be more visceral, but it also means battling crowds, parking hassles and long lines at the register.

“I prefer to shop in brick-and-mortar stores because I’m someone who likes instant gratification,” said Cortney DeMello, a shopper and retail worker. “I want to be able to walk in, take things out and leave with them.”

Retailers and shoppers alike are increasingly blending their digital and in-store experiences.

Tucked in an alley off a main shopping area in San Francisco, Re:Store, where DeMello works, offers clothing and jewelry that are mostly available online and have become popular on Instagram.

“Our slogan is ‘for people who like touching things,’ because it’s all these Instagram brands that you could shop in real life,” she said.

Another store, B8ta, sells electronics and other products in a showroom at a time when such merchandise increasingly is purchased online.

Digital shopping
Online shopping is extremely fast and convenient. Pixabay

“This is a retail store where we focus on showing off products primarily found online,” Jake Cardin, a merchandise manager with a B8ta store, said.

If a B8ta shopper likes a digital translator but buys it from Amazon on Cyber Monday, that’s OK for B8ta. The store shares its data with the companies behind the products.

Cameras in the ceilings and over the doorways measure the number of bodies in the space, giving companies information about how anonymous shoppers spent time with their products.

Technology in shopping

Cyber Monday is a time for many online stores to try out new technology, retail experts say. Some stores such as Ikea, the furniture chain founded in Sweden, use augmented reality so a shopper can see what a chair might look like in their living room.

Chat bots, preprogrammed online assistants, answer shoppers’ questions in a breezy demeanor.

Also Read- Oracle Dials SaaS 2.0 to Help Indian Businesses go Digital

“It’s not human, but they’ve been able to emulate a human so well and provide so much information to that bot, it gives the customer a very good experience if they have questions about shipping or returns,” Lewis said. “Sometimes you can’t even tell it’s a chatbot at first.”

During Cyber Monday, chatbots and deep price discounts aim toward a single goal: getting consumers to look and eventually click “buy.” (VOA)