.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence just finished what appeared to be a reassurance tour throughout Europe, letting America’s NATO allies know that “the United States of America strongly supports NATO.” But America’s allies remain wary, and rightfully so. President Donald Trump’s perspective on NATO, when juxtaposed with his sympathy towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, should raise serious concerns about the organization’s future. While NATO’s original role as a Cold-War military alliance has inevitably changed in the post-Cold War era, Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014 has forced the organization to revisit its roots – containing Russia while ensuring the security and territorial integrity of its members. As the biggest contributor of funds and arms to NATO, a U.S. withdrawal would considerably, perhaps catastrophically, weaken the organization’s posture and effectiveness. As such, Trump’s stated view of NATO as “obsolete” may be a prophecy that, in the end, fulfills itself. The United States has been a cornerstone of NATO since its inception, contributing to it significantly over the years. This has, at times, created tension between the United States and other NATO members who have not been contributing their fair share, which Trump focuses on heavily in his frequent criticism of NATO. Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis recently used his first NATO meeting to remind its members of this obligation. “America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defense,” he said. The President’s skeptical views on NATO stand in stark contrast to his warm embrace of Putin. While détente between the United States and Russia should be encouraged for global safety and security reasons, Trump’s affinity for Putin renders the United States vulnerable to Russian subterfuge. In response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its human rights abuses, the United States Congress imposed sanctions on Russia. Trump, however, has suggested that these sanctions could be lifted if Russia agrees to reduce its nuclear arsenal. Further, the recent phone conversation between Trump and Putin reportedly omitted any discussion of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. The newly reignited conflict in Eastern Ukraine between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists is the Trump administration’s first test on Russian aggression in the region. While Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, condemned Russia’s activities, Trump’s response was more alarming. Instead of taking any meaningful action, he simply stated that he would work with all the parties “to restore peace along the border.” This lack of unity within the administration may be a chink in the United States’ armor that Russia can further exploit to its benefit. Trump’s misguided proposals, combined with his strange affinity for Putin, represent a dangerous paradigm shift for NATO. By turning a blind eye to Russia’s illegal activities, Trump risks undermining the concepts of democracy and rule of law, enabling Putin to act with impunity towards his neighbors, and subverting NATO’s mission and promise of territorial integrity. If Trump – whether it is due to his view of NATO as obsolete or his hesitance to oppose Putin – allows the United States to stay on the sidelines in the event of conflict between NATO and Russia, his claims of NATO’s impotence will become reality. If NATO allies cannot depend on the United States for its support under Article 5, which commits NATO members to come to each other’s aid if one should come under attack, what then deters Russia from meddling in the affairs of its NATO-aligned neighbors? The U.S. deployment of troops in Poland, pursuant to agreements that predate the Trump presidency, may appease NATO members for now, but NATO’s future stands uncertain. Even before Trump was elected president, Baltic NATO members increased military presence close to their borders, and also agreed to increase military spending out of fear of Russian encroachment. Not only must European NATO members prepare for the possibility that they may receive much less US support from Trump than under his predecessors, they must also formulate contingency plans to effectively support their Eastern European allies and stand together against Russian aggression. Nevertheless, there may still be hope for U.S.-NATO relations. In his conversations with German and French leaders last month, Trump reaffirmed NATO’s “fundamental importance,” seemingly retreating from earlier remarks. Then, on a phone call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump emphasized “strong support for NATO.” More recently, Vice President Pence’s comments in Brussels echoed that sentiment. So, while America’s NATO allies are right to be wary, perhaps Trump’s rhetoric is simply a gambit to induce them to contribute a bit more to the alliance. As of now, it is unclear if Trump will walk back his remarks and support NATO, just as every president before him has done, or compromise one of the last bulwarks against recent trends of Russian intervention in the region. With so much uncertainty, all we can do is wait for his next move and hope, for the sake of peace and stability, that his actions do not cause his negative NATO rhetoric to become a reality. About the author: Merve Demirel is the International Law & Governance Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP). She earned her JD from American University in 2012. Merve has a background in foreign policy and international law. Photo by Gage Skidmore.  

The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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President Trump’s View on NATO: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?  

February 23, 2017

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence just finished what appeared to be a reassurance tour throughout Europe, letting America’s NATO allies know that “the United States of America strongly supports NATO.” But America’s allies remain wary, and rightfully so. President Donald Trump’s perspective on NATO, when juxtaposed with his sympathy towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, should raise serious concerns about the organization’s future. While NATO’s original role as a Cold-War military alliance has inevitably changed in the post-Cold War era, Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014 has forced the organization to revisit its roots – containing Russia while ensuring the security and territorial integrity of its members. As the biggest contributor of funds and arms to NATO, a U.S. withdrawal would considerably, perhaps catastrophically, weaken the organization’s posture and effectiveness. As such, Trump’s stated view of NATO as “obsolete” may be a prophecy that, in the end, fulfills itself. The United States has been a cornerstone of NATO since its inception, contributing to it significantly over the years. This has, at times, created tension between the United States and other NATO members who have not been contributing their fair share, which Trump focuses on heavily in his frequent criticism of NATO. Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis recently used his first NATO meeting to remind its members of this obligation. “America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defense,” he said. The President’s skeptical views on NATO stand in stark contrast to his warm embrace of Putin. While détente between the United States and Russia should be encouraged for global safety and security reasons, Trump’s affinity for Putin renders the United States vulnerable to Russian subterfuge. In response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its human rights abuses, the United States Congress imposed sanctions on Russia. Trump, however, has suggested that these sanctions could be lifted if Russia agrees to reduce its nuclear arsenal. Further, the recent phone conversation between Trump and Putin reportedly omitted any discussion of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine. The newly reignited conflict in Eastern Ukraine between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists is the Trump administration’s first test on Russian aggression in the region. While Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, condemned Russia’s activities, Trump’s response was more alarming. Instead of taking any meaningful action, he simply stated that he would work with all the parties “to restore peace along the border.” This lack of unity within the administration may be a chink in the United States’ armor that Russia can further exploit to its benefit. Trump’s misguided proposals, combined with his strange affinity for Putin, represent a dangerous paradigm shift for NATO. By turning a blind eye to Russia’s illegal activities, Trump risks undermining the concepts of democracy and rule of law, enabling Putin to act with impunity towards his neighbors, and subverting NATO’s mission and promise of territorial integrity. If Trump – whether it is due to his view of NATO as obsolete or his hesitance to oppose Putin – allows the United States to stay on the sidelines in the event of conflict between NATO and Russia, his claims of NATO’s impotence will become reality. If NATO allies cannot depend on the United States for its support under Article 5, which commits NATO members to come to each other’s aid if one should come under attack, what then deters Russia from meddling in the affairs of its NATO-aligned neighbors? The U.S. deployment of troops in Poland, pursuant to agreements that predate the Trump presidency, may appease NATO members for now, but NATO’s future stands uncertain. Even before Trump was elected president, Baltic NATO members increased military presence close to their borders, and also agreed to increase military spending out of fear of Russian encroachment. Not only must European NATO members prepare for the possibility that they may receive much less US support from Trump than under his predecessors, they must also formulate contingency plans to effectively support their Eastern European allies and stand together against Russian aggression. Nevertheless, there may still be hope for U.S.-NATO relations. In his conversations with German and French leaders last month, Trump reaffirmed NATO’s “fundamental importance,” seemingly retreating from earlier remarks. Then, on a phone call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump emphasized “strong support for NATO.” More recently, Vice President Pence’s comments in Brussels echoed that sentiment. So, while America’s NATO allies are right to be wary, perhaps Trump’s rhetoric is simply a gambit to induce them to contribute a bit more to the alliance. As of now, it is unclear if Trump will walk back his remarks and support NATO, just as every president before him has done, or compromise one of the last bulwarks against recent trends of Russian intervention in the region. With so much uncertainty, all we can do is wait for his next move and hope, for the sake of peace and stability, that his actions do not cause his negative NATO rhetoric to become a reality. About the author: Merve Demirel is the International Law & Governance Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP). She earned her JD from American University in 2012. Merve has a background in foreign policy and international law. Photo by Gage Skidmore.  

The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.