Trump’s attacks on NATO raise questions about its future
President Donald Trump’s repeated tongue lashings of NATO allies and his friendly overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin are stirring questions at home and abroad about Trump’s commitment to an Atlantic alliance that has been a pillar of U.S. security policy for more than half a century.
Might a reordering, or even a reduction, of U.S. forces in Europe be in the cards? Clues may come when Trump gathers today with NATO leaders in Brussels. The official agenda includes a plan for increasing the number of land, air and sea forces capable of reacting quickly in a European crisis, but overshadowing it are tensions generated by Trump’s view that the Europeans are slackers leaning unfairly on the U.S. military.
At the risk of deepening the rift with traditional allies, Trump will then hold a summit in Finland with Putin. On his departure from Washington on Tuesday, the president remarked that he “can’t say right now” if Putin is a friend or foe, but he predicted that his first summit with the Russian leader “may be the easiest” of all his meetings in Europe.
Such comments have stirred unease not just in Europe, but in Washington. A bipartisan resolution, set to be endorsed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointedly voices support for NATO as strategically important for the collective security of the trans-Atlantic region.
“Although the Atlantic alliance has weathered many crises over its lifetime, I now am concerned that the alliance will not survive Donald Trump,” said Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, who served as senior director for European affairs on the National Security Council during President Barack Obama’s first term.
“Because he isn’t arguing with allies about policy. He’s questioning the fundamental value of NATO to the United States. This antagonistic approach is generating an unprecedented debate in Europe and in Canada about whether the United States should be treated as friend or foe,” she said.
The demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 prompted a partial drawdown of U.S. forces from Europe, but every administration since then has concluded that keeping a U.S. military presence there was important for wider U.S. security, political and economic interests, and as a sign of solidarity with Europe. NATO has been a key part of the long U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, for example, and it is expected to agree this week to take a bigger training role in Iraq.
Trump, who has also questioned the U.S. military presence in Asia, is challenging those assumptions.