Donald Trump continued his round of criticism for the aging North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as he prepared for an upcoming trip to Europe that will culminate in a July 16th summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The New York Times noted that this critique was not met with the most appreciation:
Mr. Trump’s comments touched off a round of trans-Atlantic sniping with Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, that was sure to start the NATO meeting on a tense note.
“The U.S. is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter of the other members of the Atlantic alliance, hours before Air Force One left for Belgium. “Not fair to the U.S. taxpayer.”
He complained anew about trade deficits with the European Union, and seemed to threaten to cut American military spending in a bid to compel other NATO members to increase theirs.
The complaints reflected the degree to which Mr. Trump is coming into the summit meeting focused on his anger with NATO and his conviction that the alliance exploits American largess to the detriment of the United States. That is a stark departure from previous American presidents of both parties, who have tended to regard the alliance as an invaluable force for collective defense that reflects shared values among its members.
Mr. Trump’s remarks exacerbated concerns that he may torpedo the meeting that begins on Wednesday, and with it, the alliance’s efforts to show unity and solidarity in the face of global threats, including from Russia.
However, this article notes that the point of view held by many in the mostly European alliance is still that Russia represents some sort of threat to the security of Europe. This is strongly disputed by both the Russian Federation leadership itself, and even by other powers in the world. The United States’ leadership largely holds to the same view, but a look at most of the rhetoric about this casts Russia and President Putin as threats akin to the Soviet era, and have largely ignored the reality of the changes that have come to the country since the fall of Communism in 1991.
A Fox News opinion piece by Harry J Kazianis puts forth an argument that in the following excerpts follows the thought that President Trump appears to believe as well:
The U.S. president understands one of the great cardinal rules of geopolitics that others seem to have forgotten: no alliance lasts forever. After almost 70 years, America and its NATO partners in Europe may be heading for a new relationship, while still remaining friends.
In an early morning tweet Tuesday, President Trump wrote: “Getting ready to leave for Europe. First meeting – NATO. The U.S. is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them. Not fair to the U.S. taxpayer. On top of that we lose $151 Billion on Trade with the European Union. Charge us big Tariffs (& Barriers)!”And in another tweet President Trump wrote: “NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair!”
Tusk responded with a tweet of his own: “Dear @realDonaldTrump. 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.”
History teaches us obvious reasons for the breakup of alliances. Circumstances and threats change. One country’s mortal enemy one day could be the nation’s best friend the next. Just look back at World War II – our enemies Germany, Japan and Italy are our allies today. Our ally Russia (part of the Soviet Union back then) is our adversary.
There is only one constant when it comes to smart foreign policy. A nation seeks allies and partnership where it has common interests. Sometimes those alliances lose their value or importance over time and break up.
NATO was formed to defend against the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies. But the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact died in 1991 – and NATO’s original mission died then as well. Soviet tanks are no longer primed to head into Europe to conquer our NATO partners. NATO is now a world-class military alliance looking for a mission.
But today’s Russia is not the superpower threat that the Soviet Union was. Over the long-term, demographic issues, economic stagnation and questions of who succeeds Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly ensure Moscow is not the boogeyman it once was.
Much of the rest of the piece admittedly follows the narrative that the world is full of “threats” from China primarily, followed by North Korea and Russia as a tertiary threat, suggesting the rather mainstream view that the whole world is out to get America. This narrative is certainly the one being defended in Europe regarding the preservation of NATO itself. However, Mr. Kazianis has been forced to acknowledge that things do change:
All this means that America’s available diplomatic and military bandwidth that it can devote to Europe must change. We must face up to the fact that NATO, in its present form, is obsolete. The alliance must evolve into an organization led and mostly resourced by Europeans.
So, is America going to quit NATO and go back across the Atlantic or abandon its allies in Europe? Never. Does that mean a wave of isolationism has infected Washington and we won’t honor our treaty commitments or push back against Moscow in another crisis? Not at all.
But it does mean a fundamental shift in burden that a Europe blessed with wealth and riches can easily maintain. However, if Europe is unwilling or unable to field a credible armed force to take on challenges from Russia or elsewhere, we must question the utility of an alliance that is a shell of what it used to be.