Source: The Strategic Culture Foundation, Finian Cunningham
When US President Donald Trump addressed the opening of the NATO summit last week, it was an embarrassing display of American bullying. As Trump lectured the other leaders of the military alliance about laggardly financial commitments, there was much shuffling of feet and grimacing of faces. There were also contemptuous smirks as the president spoke.
Speaking outside the new North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters in Brussels, Trump declared that many members «owed» the US a lot of money for their defense. He said it was unfair to American taxpayers that only five out of 28 current NATO members meet an agreed target of allocating 2 per cent of GDP to military spending.
At a photo-op line-up, Trump was seen to push Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusco Markovic out of the way in order to get himself into a prime front row position. The fleeting moment spoke volumes of the American view of fellow NATO members.
It was Trump’s first meeting of the US-led military alliance since his inauguration four months ago. During his presidential campaign, Trump derided the organization as «obsolete». After becoming president, he kind of retracted that complaint to civilian titular head Jens Stoltenberg at a meeting in Washington, when Trump performed a typical U-turn and said he no longer considered NATO obsolete.
Other senior Trump administration officials have sought to repair the damage to relations by making earnest statements on American commitment to NATO. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense General James Mattis have described the alliance as a bedrock of American policy.
Trump’s debut in Brussels last week, however, has renewed the strains within NATO. His incessant demand for other members to cough up is aggravating relations – particularly between the US and Germany. His address in Brussels sounded boorish and ill-informed. Trump’s omission to pledge American commitment to «shared defense» under NATO’s Article 5 – as all US presidents customarily do – was also seen as another sign of Trump playing hardball.
Nick Burns, a former US ambassador to NATO under George W Bush, told American news channel CNN that he was «stunned» by Trump’s speech.
«This is the first president since 1949 not to mention Article 5. Every president has reaffirmed collective defense and today was the day for him to do it», said Burns, adding: «I support him on asking allies to spend more on defense. But there is a time and a place. And this wasn’t it. The lecture was the wrong tone and this was the wrong time».
Trump has previously hinted that the US would not automatically come to the defense of other NATO members because of their relatively low financial contributions. That he again pointedly omitted mention of Article 5 in Brussels will unnerve some NATO members, particularly the Baltic states and Poland, who claim they are threatened by Russia, despite Moscow’s repeated assurances that it has no aggressive designs on Europe.
Also of note, Trump cited terrorism as the main threat facing NATO. He did mention Russia as a security challenge in a perfunctory sort of way, but it was noticeable that the American president did not appear to view Moscow as an existential threat. That will further unnerve «Russophobes» within NATO.
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