Trump’s Defense of NATO Rings Hollow
Trump’s Defense of NATO Rings Hollow
President Trump today had a tense exchange with French President Macron about the nation’s counterterrorism policy and about Macron’s recent comments regarding NATO.
Although the President’s efforts to defend the alliance are commendable, the support rings hollow in light of his previous statements and his continued misrepresentation of NATO spending and the role of the alliance in the world.
First, there are 29 NATO members, “including them” (France), not 28. Montenegro was the last country to join the alliance in 2017. This may have been nothing more than a flubbed line, as it sometimes happens with this President, but to his critics this will be just another piece of evidence that he doesn’t even care enough to know and understand the current NATO membership. This, coupled with his continued misrepresentation of how NATO funding works and insistence that NATO allies somehow owe the US a debt because they don’t spend enough on their own defenses, makes his current defense of the alliance ring hollow.
And comments such as this also give the media pretext to condemn the President further on our NATO involvement. For instance, ahead of the NATO summit, the alliance recalculated the formula for member contributions to its direct funding that goes to common infrastructure, such as the NATO headquarters in Brussels. This budget is around $2.5 billion, and the US was paying roughly 22 percent of it – about $550 million – the only real payments the members make to the alliance itself. However, CNN, as it’s wont to do, ran with the story as if Trump is screwing our NATO allies out of money, instead of reporting the fact that this new burden-sharing formula has been agreed upon by all NATO allies.
The Trump administration has moved to substantially cut its contribution to NATO’s collective budget according to several US and NATO officials, a symbolic move that comes as many continue to question President Donald Trump’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance as he prepares to attend a summit to mark its 70th anniversary in London next week.
But beyond all this “malarkey,” as Joe Biden would say, is a very real problem with Trump’s relationship with our NATO allies. His misrepresentation about who benefits from NATO and the claim that France needs the alliance much more than it needs France also shows his lack of understanding of the reason for its existence.
“Nobody needs NATO more than France,” Trump said, alluding to France being invaded twice during both World Wars. “It’s a very dangerous statement for them to make,” Trump said. “Frankly, the one that benefits the least is the United States. We are helping Europe unite and go against a common foe – may not be a foe – I can’t tell you.”
Let’s start with the fact that NATO was created to stem the growing threat of communism and provide collective security against the Soviet Union.
The nations that benefit most are the ones in Russia’s former sphere of influence. This is why former Soviet states were clamoring to join the alliance, and why it’s particularly important for them today, as Russia increases its “active measures” worldwide and its interference in and threats against the smaller eastern European NATO members and non-NATO countries.
NATO wasn’t even created during the world wars, so to bring those into the mix and claim that France will somehow be invaded by… Russia? Or NATO member Germany? And therefore needs the alliance more than any other country… I’m not even sure what to think of this preposterous claim.
And frankly, Macron’s statement about NATO “brain death” in the Economist interview wasn’t a slam against the alliance writ large, but rather a swipe at the United States. It was a reaction to the US moving troops out of the way of the Turks as this NATO member staged an incursion into a sovereign country, putting European and Kurdish allies there at risk.
“You have partners together in the same part of the world, and you have no coordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies,” said Macron.
Macron told the Economist that the alliance “only works if the guarantor of last resort functions as such. I’d argue that we should reassess the reality of what NATO is in the light of the commitment of the United States.”
We can debate the utility of the NATO alliance all day, as well as the necessity of the presence of US troops in Syria. Narcissi’s article linked above is a good start to that debate.
But that’s not what this post is about.
Fact is that Trump has been taking swipes at NATO long before his inauguration. He has shown poor understanding of the alliance’s mission and funding, and his current defense of the alliance in light of Macron’s remarks strikes me as a particularly hollow attempt to use the alliance as a shield in order to avoid the larger elephant in the room – the fact that our allies no longer trust the US as a partner.
We saw it in Macron’s recent Economist interview.
We saw it when our allies demanded more concrete evidence that Iran was responsible for the attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman this summer.
We saw it when the President conflated trade issues with national security, implying that our allies represent a threat, referring to them as “so-called” allies and claiming that our “friends did more damage to us than our enemies.”
Putting our disagreements about our continued participation in the alliance aside, is it any wonder that they are having doubts about the US commitment to the partnership?
And is it any wonder that the President’s current defense of NATO rings hollow?
Featured image: President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, February 2017; official White House photo in the Public Domain.