What Trump really thinks of Nato, May, Merkel and Putin

Of course, the United States was always the overwhelmingly greatest force contributor. It was our alliance, and it was primarily for our benefit, not because we were renting ourselves out to defend Europe, but because defending “the West” was in America’s strategic interest. As a Cold War bulwark against Soviet expansionism, Nato represented history’s most successful politico-military coalition.

Trump, at his first Nato summit in 2017, complained that too many allies were not meeting their 2014 commitment, collectively made at Cardiff, Wales, to spend 2 per cent of GDP for defence by 2024. Germany was one of the worst offenders, spending about 1.2 per cent of GDP on defence, and always under pressure from Social Democrats and other Leftists to spend less. Trump, despite, or perhaps because of, his father’s German ancestry, was relentlessly critical. During consultations on the strike against Syria in April, Trump asked Macron why Germany would not join in the military retaliation against the Assad regime.

It was a good question, without an answer other than domestic German politics, but Trump rolled on, criticising Germany asaterrible Nato partner and again attacking the Nord Stream II pipeline, which would see Germany paying Russia, Nato’s adversary, substantial revenues. Trump called Nato “obsolete” during the 2016 campaign but argued in April 2017 that the problem had been “fixed” in his presidency. His noteworthy failure in 2017 to mention Article 5 allegedly surprised even his top advisers because he personally deleted any reference to it fromadraft speech. True or not, the 2017 summit set the stage for the potential crisis we faced in 2018.

This storm had been brewing well before I arrived in the West Wing, but it was now directly ahead. Trump was correct on the burden-sharing point. The problem, from the perspective of US credibility, steadfastness and alliance management, was the vitriol with which Trump so often expressed his displeasure with allies not achieving the objective, or in some cases not even seeming to be interested in trying. If this were merely a critique of Trump’s style, it would be a triviality.

Personally, I’ve never shied away from being direct, even with our closest friends internationally, and I can tell you they are never shy about telling us what they think, especially about America’s deficiencies. In fact, it was not Trump’s directness but the veiled hostility to the alliance itself that unnerved other Nato members and his own advisers.

Trump asked to call Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at 9am on Friday June 29, just a couple of weeks before the upcoming summit. As we met in the Oval [Office] beforehand, Trump said he would tell Stoltenberg the US was going to lower its “contribution” to Nato to Germany’s level and ask him to inform the other members before the July 11–12 summit. (Here, we face a persistent problem with nomenclature. The Cardiff commitment is not about “contributions” to Nato, but about aggregate defence spending. Whether Trump ever understood this, and simply misused the word “contribution”, I could never tell. But saying he would…

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