What will Trump do about NATO?

According to NY Times President Trump discussed pulling U.S. from NATO and Fox News Tucker Carlson (and I am pretty sure Trump watched this) asked if American kids get to die for Baltic states. Should Europe be worried about this, or not, and why? Read few comments.

Mitchell OrensteinProfessor of Central and East European Politics , University of Pennsylvania, Associate, Center for European Studies, Harvard University

Everyone should be watching what is happening in the US with disbelief.  We cannot believe our ears.  What does it mean?

First, I believe that Trump honestly believes that the US does not need alliances, NATO is worthless, the US spends a lot of money on European defense, there is no reason why, and the US should pull out.  Second, it is widely known that Trump articulates a lot of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy ideas and Russia would be keen for the US to destroy NATO by pulling out.

However, this is not a very widely shared opinion in the US, certainly not in the US defense establishment, which is very large, or in the US Senate, where such a proposition would probably lose 99-1 (possibly with Rand Paul being the only vote for).

Even in President Trump’s own administration, there are few who think this would be a good idea.  So, it probably won’t happen.  Still, it is disconcerting that the commander in chief has these opinions.  It does not appear, for the time being, that he is acting on them.  Of course, that could change, but it would only take a few GOP Senators to remove him from office.  So, it may be that Trump is constrained to act in the best interest of the US for the time being, rather than in the best interest of Russia.

John R. Deni*, Research Professor US Army War College, Author of NATO and Article 5

Tucker Carlson’s questions about whether American kids should die for the Baltic States is insulting to our European allies — many of whom have in fact died for American wars fought over the last 70 years in places like Korea and Afghanistan — and frankly ignorant.  American leaders in 1949 believed that our country should be prepared to send American kids to die for not just (West) Berlin, Paris, and London, but also Oslo, Lisbon, Reykjavik, Copenhagen, and even majority-Muslim Ankara (shhhh, don’t tell Carlson!) — all places many Americans would be hard-pressed to locate on a world map.

What Carlson and those that think like he does don’t get is that it’s not familiarity or even proximity to the Heartland that determines where vital American interests rest and where they need to be defended.  Instead, economic interests play the most important role, with democratic values nearly as important.  Despite the promise of a ‘Pacific century,’ Europe remains a region vital to U.S. security and the American way of life.  The European Union accounts for 22 percent of all U.S. trade in goods and services, while China accounts for just 13.5 percent.   The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that total trade in goods and services with the EU supports 2.6 million U.S. jobs, while total trade in goods and services with China supports around 1 million U.S. jobs.  At the same time, Europe remains home to the largest number of vibrant, liberal democracies in the world, countries that view problems and solutions in much the same way we do.  So if you’re an American, and you care about having a job, you care about maintaining NATO as the guarantor of stability and security in and around Europe.

Thankfully, the vast majority of our elected representatives, American academia, and the epistemic community of experts in think tanks and elsewhere in this country get it — for this reason, Europe doesn’t have much to worry about.  A move by Trump to pull the United States out of NATO would be met with widespread, bipartisan horror and resistance in our Congress, would probably prompt numerous resignations from the cabinet and executive branch, and could conceivably trigger a move by others in the administration to invoke Article 25 of our constitution to seek Trump’s removal from office.  For these reasons, I don’t think Trump would succeed in this step, and Europe shouldn’t worry too much about this.

However, where I think Europeans really do have to worry is with regard to what Trump’s skepticism toward NATO (and especially his ambivalent attitude toward Article 5 of the alliance’s founding Treaty) does to weaken strategic stability and thereby embolden Putin.  Even considering making Article 5’s pledge of mutual assistance somehow ‘conditional’ — for instance, on whether a country meets its 2 percent goal, on whether Americans can locate that country’s capital on a map, or on whether national leaders get along — opens the door for Russian adventurism, intimidation, and miscalculation.  And this in an area of vital interest to the United States.  It’s illogical, but it’s where the White House is for the moment, and it should prompt our allies to be concerned.

* These views do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government

Jack GoldstoneProfessor of Public Policy, Director, Center for Global Policy, George Mason University, Woodrow Wilson Center Visiting Scholar

All Europeans should be worried that the U.S. has a “rogue” President who has “fallen in love” with North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un, but has been hostile to the leaders of Europe and Canada and repeatedly expressed the view that the U.S. is being “taken advantage of” by NATO.

It is important to understand that this is NOT a new view from President Trump.   Long before running for President, Trump expressed the view that the United States was “losing” and “being taken advantage of” because the US had trade agreements under which we ran trade deficits, and had military alliances under which we paid more than allies toward joint defense.

These critical viewpoints, which saw no positive value in US alliances and trade agreements, were based on ignorance and a primitive, transactional view of international trade and politics.  However, Trump has stubbornly held to these views even as he became President of the U.S. and sought to turn them into U.S. policy.

Thus Trump has criticized and sought to change US engagement in the Paris Climate Treaty, NAFTA, the WTO, alliances with South Korea and Japan, and even NATO.  Fortunately, the US is not a dictatorship, and Trump by himself does not have the power to unilaterally abrogate all US trade agreements and military alliances.  The Senate needs to concur in any major treaty changes.  And the U.S. Senate, I am confident, will not agree to a withdrawal from NATO.

That said, Europeans worried about the US acting on its NATO obligations are right to worry that Trump would delay or even fail to act if a NATO member is attacked.   Trump has mocked Montenegro, and paid no attention to the Baltics; though he has indicated affection for President Orban of Hungary.    The best hope for Europe is that no crisis arises until Trump is out of office; at that point US full support for NATO should return.

Stanley SloanNonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council of the United States, Member, Duco Experts, Visiting Scholar in Political Science, Middlebury College

Europeans and Americans should both be very worried about President Trump’s alignment with President Putin’s Russia and attacks on NATO. If the president were to pursue his reported desire to pull the United States out of the alliance it would probably lead to a major political/constitutional crisis in the United States and deepen the crisis of confidence in the alliance.

“Why should American kids die for the Baltic states?” is a question that has been around in one form or another for over 60 years. Once the Soviet Union developed the missile capabilities to strike the United States with nuclear weapons the oft-repeated question was “Would the United States be willing to trade Chicago/New York/ Los Angeles for Hamburg/Rome/Paris?” The question never went away, but American presidents – until Donald Trump – reaffirmed the American nuclear and non-nuclear commitment to European defense. Those affirmations had sufficient credibility to preserve the deterrent effect against the Soviet Union and, after the end of the Cold War, Russia, even if it didn’t provide total reassurance to the European allies.

The presidency of Donald Trump has brought the transatlantic alliance into the most serious crisis of NATO’s seven decades of existence.  The reality on the ground is that American soldiers and naval/air force personnel on a daily basis are putting their lives on the line for European defense – and not just in the Baltics. This fact may be cold comfort to Europeans who worry about Russia’s political and military threats to NATO allies, but it is indicative of the continuity, or at least inertia, that is present in US policy toward the alliance.

Europeans should perhaps also be reassured by the quick and strong congressional response in opposition to the president’s reported desire to leave NATO.  But it also is true that the next American president will have a major task reassuring Europeans of the credibility of US commitments. He or she will need strong support and effective burdensharing from friends of the United States in Europe to help retrieve the mutual trust that has been lost in just two years of the disastrous Trump presidency.

Sean KayProfessor, Department of Politics and Government, Ohio Wesleyan University

Should Europe be worried about the President of the United States repeatedly asserting the US should consider a withdrawal from NATO?  Yes!  If European leaders are not concerned about this, then they are not doing their jobs.  There is no question that there has long been a legitimate burdensharing issue and, basic questions about the credibility of Article V date to the alliance’s founding.  But, what Donald Trump is doing with regard to NATO is deeply damaging and it is very difficult not to see it as very pleasing to Vladimir Putin.  I am confident the alliance, and the US role in it, will survive the Trump presidency.  But we also have to note that issues of burdensharing by allies and also overstretch in terms of military commitments are part of the nationalist and populist response that fueled the election of Donald Trump.  What makes this dangerous is that Donald

Trump is unleashing a Russian Trojan Horse within the alliance – as the primary threat to NATO is the growing reach of Russia’s efforts to change the domestic politics in NATO member states – and thus use that to leverage the classic Russian strategy of de-coupling the United States and its allies.  NATO needs serious reforms – and the 2 percent solution on burdernsharing is not likely to help, as it likely will not be reached, and it ignores the much more important issues of the need for integration of stand-alone European capabilities, backstopped by the United States as a part of alliance strategy.  NATO also would benefit from an annual review of each members’ commitment to the democratic principles articulated in the preamble of the NATO treaty – and if states are found not meeting those (as Hungary and Turkey already appear to not be), there should be a mechanism for suspension of membership.  Finally, the NATO members should provide some additional frameworks for how Article V commitments might be applied – to include options ranging from diplomatic, economic, political, and military. The idea that NATO can emerge from this period without major reforms should be discarded, however at this point that will have to await another American administration most likely.

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