Trump’s Defense of NATO Rings Hollow

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.

Official White House photo in the Public Domain

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.

Written by

Marta Hernandez is an immigrant, writer, editor, science fiction fan (especially military sci-fi), and a lover of freedom, her children, her husband and her pets. She loves to shoot, and range time is sacred, as is her hiking obsession, especially if we’re talking the European Alps. She is an avid caffeine and TWD addict, and wants to own otters, sloths, wallabies, koalas, and wombats when she grows up.

  • GWB says:

    as it sometimes happens with this all Presidents

    NATO was created to stem the growing threat of communism and provide collective security against the Soviet Union
    Yes. But in a very specific way – by mutual defense, but specifically by triggering the involvement of the nuclear-armed USA. Ironically, it was an attempt to use what partly caused WW1 (mutual alliances) to prevent another WW1/2 – but because of the overwhelming power of the USA, it worked.
    Oh, and since it worked so well, it no longer has that mission, and should be disbanded or re-negotiated.

    The nations that benefit most are the ones in Russia’s former sphere of influence.
    Which is actually beyond the scope of the original treaty.
    Honestly? NATO should have been disbanded and re-negotiated after the USSR fell. See above. (I was pro-new-Eastern Europe-treaty-organization.)
    And, yes, I’m big on making Europe defend itself. Why should our blood and treasure ensure their peace?

    NATO wasn’t even created during the world wars
    No, it was created because of them.

    I’m not even sure what to think of this preposterous claim.
    Oh, c’mon, why do you think “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” became popular? (Yes, The Simpsons, but it was made popular because of various disloyalty since then – see WoT, Serbia, Libyan Raid*.) You really can’t get over Trump’s hyperbole.
    (* Yes, the Libyan Raid was pre-Simpsons. but it was post-WW2 and reinforced many Americans’ idea of French perfidy.)

    He has shown poor understanding of the alliance’s mission
    No, I think he understands very well its current mission, which is NOT defense against our Cold War opponent, but to prop up the welfare states of Europe with the military assurance of the USA. They want us to go off and fight all the bad guys in the world so they can continue paying for no guns and all butter. He – I think rightly, though you might disagree – thinks that is NOT putting America first, and it needs to be shaken up if not broken down.

    You might think that Trump should use more traditional diplomacy with our European “allies”. But quite simply these people (the politicians/aristocrats that run the place, anyway) have lived inside a bubble so long they actually believe their own press releases. (“Ma merde ne pue pas!”) Their bubble doesn’t reflect reality – mainly because they’ve been protected from it for far too long. And traditional diplomacy can’t seem to break through that. Hell, traditional diplomacy reinforces it (look at our current Foggy Bottom crew – they actually believe that Euro-bullsh*t, too).

    I actually think Trump is being MUCH more diplomatic than I would be. I’m much more of a “Give ‘Em Two Fingers and Carry A Big Stick” guy than I am a “Speak Softly” sort. It’s what’s needed, until we straighten things out enough to go back to speaking softly.

    (Final caveat – yes, I wish we could do this with a nice guy like Reagan. But we f*ed up and elected Bush 41 behind him, then Clinton, then Bush 43, then 0bama, just digging the hole deeper with each one. They were all advocates – to various degrees – of the With Enough Diplomats We Can All Get Along and We Can Just Fight A Nice Little War foreign policies. Georgia really appreciated that. So did Kosovo. And Taiwan. And Crimea. Sure, I’d prefer a nice guy – but we didn’t have one handy.)

    Oh, and the necessity or not of NATO is entirely tied up in how one speaks to them or about them. They’ve had us in an abusive relationship for far too long, and Trump is not letting them slap us around any longer.

  • Bobby Ahr says:

    Wrong. NATO should be disbanded, and our troops brought home and military support of Europe ended. They can take care of themselves. Germany has certainly showed in the past that it is militarily capable.

    Renegotiate? Start over? Maybe. Why does the USA pay for 22% of the headquarters of the bureaucrats? Sounds an awful lot like a swamp.

  • Kevin says:

    This morning articles in the NYT and WP … European leaders seen openly mocking President Trump. America alone is a weak America. Some people struggle with broad concepts, the macro level. Let’s move it to individuals and the micro level. Who is more secure … the person who doesn’t associate with their neighbors, who doesn’t keep an eye out for others, or who doesn’t step in and assist their neighbors/coworkers when a problem arises. Or, the person who is a part of the community, knows their neighbors, assists when the need is there?

    Yeah. We can sit on our “large island” between the Pacific and Atlantic and hang on to our weapons and military and snub our noses at everyone else … in the long run we become isolated and alone. We leave a void and when there’s a void, it gets filled with something else. Russia.

    Look at developing nations now … Africa, Central and South America and the role China is taking. Today, we need nothing from Zimbabwe. 100 years from now, when people in Zimbabwe are bi-lingual speaking Chinese and the infrastructure is owned and operated by China, whether we need something or not from Zimbabwe will be a moot point. It’s not going to happen.

    It’s better to have friends than enemies.

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