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Trump’s Nato rant shows him up as a threat to Europe’s security

In World
February 16, 2024

However, let’s not forget how successful Nato has been in maintaining peace on its members’ territories, and how important unity and an unconditional commitment to each other have been to make this happen.

Without the US, there is no Nato and probably no peace. During the Cold War, Nato was a bulwark against the omnipresent Soviet threat on the European continent and elsewhere. The Soviet expansionist fantasies that had been successful in various other places around the globe were never able to get a strong foothold within Europe, thanks to Article 5 – collective defence.

But founding Nato was not a selfless act by Washington. Rather, it was a strategic decision. American leaders realised that a largely peaceful European continent, and one without Marxist ideology, would be key to America’s prosperity. Conversely, instability, with their intertwined economies, would be counterproductive to American interests.

02:33

Nato kick-starts its largest-ever air force exercise in Germany, but says Russia is not the target

Nato kick-starts its largest-ever air force exercise in Germany, but says Russia is not the target

This is why all presidents bar Trump – from Harry Truman to Obama and now Joe Biden – have regularly and powerfully reaffirmed their pledge to Nato.

Today, the Soviets may be gone, but Russia’s expansionism is alive and well. President Vladimir Putin has attacked his neighbour, Ukraine, and continues to fantasise about the return of a great Russian empire. What has been stopping him thus far is Nato and the deterrence it poses. Putin might be a dictator, but like most strongmen, he primarily wants to ensure his own survival. An all-out war against Nato would put a question mark against this goal, and he knows it.

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But, thankfully, Putin can always rely on Trump, who made it clear during a rally this past weekend that he would not stand behind Article 5 if members weren’t paying.

“No, I would not protect you,” Trump recalled telling a European leader. “In fact, I would encourage [Russia] to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills.”

To those who still somehow believe Trump is playing three-dimensional chess and merely using such language to get Europeans to pay more, as a quasi-geopolitical Art of the Deal, he is not.

Trump’s antipathy for Nato (and appreciation of Putin) is genuine and long documented. He has traditionally questioned the value of American alliances. Of Europeans, he once opined that “their conflicts are not worth American lives. Pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually.”
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (front left) speaks to then US president Donald Trump at a Nato leaders’ meeting in Watford, England, on December 4, 2019. Trump’s antipathy towards Nato is well known. Photo: AP
As president, he alienated European allies with his disdain for Nato, and threatened to abandon the alliance many times – including, infamously, at the 2018 Nato summit. The adults in his administration – John Bolton, James Mattis, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, Mike Pompeo and even Mike Pence – were reportedly able to talk him out of the idea, which did not stop him from making his views clear internally. “I don’t give a s*** about Nato,” Trump once told Bolton, then his national security adviser, during a heated debate.
And therein lies the issue: Trump genuinely does not care about or understand Nato. He does not realise Nato only works because it is a believable bluff – the bluff of collective defence. No one truly believed America would have given New York for Berlin during the Cold War or that Nato members would go into an all-out war over Estonia if Russia were ever to attack.

However, it is precisely this lack of absolute certainty that has made the concept of deterrence work so well. Because, thus far, American presidents have done their best to continuously convince the Kremlin that Article 5 is a response the Russians must never trifle with.

Trump, however, seems determined to put an end to that conviction by not only questioning collective defence but also encouraging Russia to attack. It is thus also irrelevant that Trump would inevitably face legal hurdles in any undertaking to dismantle Nato. The damage would have been done by the time the issue had been litigated and decided.

02:28

Finland inducted into Nato as Russia warns of ‘countermeasures’

Finland inducted into Nato as Russia warns of ‘countermeasures’

Once Trump, who in all likelihood could become president again, explicitly says he doesn’t feel obliged to adhere to Article 5, the bluff has been called, the deterrence disappears, Nato is rendered obsolete, and Russia no longer fears a red line enforced by the US. All this would provide the Kremlin with carte blanche to attack neighbours with impunity and shatter the stability the alliance had ensured for its members for over 70 years.

So, it’s not merely Americans who ought to oppose Trump’s return. It’s all of us. Thanks to American leadership, we have been fortunate enough to live and prosper in mostly peaceful times. A second Trump term is bound to change the status quo.

Thomas O. Falk is a journalist and political analyst who writes about German, British, and US politics

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