THE HAGUE: NATO is poorly equipped to defend members against aggression amid uncertainty over its unity under US President Donald Trump, which could allow Russia to exploit vulnerabilities, a Dutch advisory body warned Friday.
"It is becoming doubtful whether NATO will act responsibly and unanimously when it comes to it. There is internal division in an increasing number of areas," said Joris Voorhoeve, chairman of the Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV).
"Uncertainty about the political leadership of the United States under President Trump is accompanied by concerns about the alliance's unity," he added.
The warning comes in a report issued Friday by the independent body which advises the Dutch foreign ministry and the government on policy.
"NATO is insufficiently equipped for its core task: protecting members against aggression via a credible deterrent and collective defence," the AIV said in a statement.
But NATO hit back, insisting it is "the strongest alliance in the world – with 2.5 million men and women under arms and available to come to the defence of any NATO member".
"The commitment of the United States to NATO is beyond doubt," NATO deputy spokesman Piers Cazalet added in an email to AFP.
The Dutch body called on the 29-member North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), set up in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II, to strengthen internal cohesion and work to improve transatlantic relations as "the United States remains indispensable for Europe's security".
From the founding of the alliance the United States has been its "political and military backbone," but since Trump took office in January there has been "a lack of leadership" by the Americans.
- 'Vulnerable' Baltics -
Europe's safety is under threat from "destabilising actions by Russia" and from the current instability in the Middle East, it concludes.
Regions such as the Baltics are currently "not well protected (and) an assertive Russia could seek to abuse this situation", the report, entitled "The future of NATO and the Security of Europe", warned.
It recommends that military units on the alliance's eastern flank in countries such as Lithuania and Poland "should be significantly strengthened" and NATO should consider deploying some kind of rotating brigade.
It also calls for the lifting of bureaucratic obstacles to allow military units and equipment to move more rapidly across borders if needed, by establishing what it called a "military Schengen" -- a reference to the EU's 26-nation borderless system.
But NATO deputy spokesman Cazalet refuted the idea that Baltic nations were vulnerable.
"Our Baltic allies are not just protected by their national forces and NATO's multinational battlegroups, but by the sum total of Allied armed forces," he said.
"In response to a more challenging security environment, NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcement of its defence since the end of the Cold War," he added, highlighting that four multinational battle groups have been deployed to the east.
He also stressed that the NATO response force has been tripled "with a new 5,000-strong quick reaction force at its core, capable of moving in days".
Concerns however have grown about the threat to the alliance's eastern region since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Nato is currently upgrading capabilities to combat a resurgent Russia, as part of the alliance's biggest shakeup since the Cold War, with defence ministers on Wednesday backing the creation of two new command centres to help protect Europe.