Trump and NATO: Is the Western alliance doomed?
Now we know what “America First” really means, said Bret Stephens in The New York Times. In his “excruciating” trip to Europe last week, President Trump made it clear he intends to bring about “the collapse of the liberal international order” and such institutions as NATO, the G-7, and the European Union. Trump’s wrecking-ball rampage began at the NATO summit in Brussels, where he berated our allies—Germany’s Angela Merkel, in particular—and threatened that the U.S. might “go our own way” if member states didn’t immediately meet their agreed-upon 2024 target for spending 2 percent of their GDP on their militaries, and soon double that spending to 4 percent. Next, in Britain, came the “gratuitous humiliation” of Prime Minister Theresa May. In an interview, Trump not only mocked May’s “weak” handling of the delicate Brexit negotiations, but also essentially endorsed her rival Boris Johnson, on the Trumpian grounds that Johnson “obviously likes me and says very good things about me.” Trump’s disdainful treatment of our European allies was “childish and dangerous,” said Claire Berlinksi in Politico.com. America’s postwar statesmen purposefully designed the Western alliance to unite Europe under U.S. protection, promote free markets and democracy, and prevent great power conflicts. The result? Seventy years of peace and growing prosperity. If Trump succeeds in wrecking our alliance, “the world will soon be neither peaceful nor prosperous.”
Sometimes you need a “wrecking ball,” said Irwin Stelzer in WeeklyStandard.com, if the goal is “clearing the way for new and better structures.” NATO simply cannot fulfill its mission—the mutual defense of its members—if those members continue to be what President Obama called “free riders,” basking in U.S. protection while refusing to invest in their own defense. Wealthy Germany, most egregiously, spends only 1.22 percent of its GDP on defense, preferring to fund its “generous welfare state,” and now wants to renege on its commitment to raise that figure to 2 percent. “NATO isn’t a social club,” said David French in NationalReview.com. “It’s a military alliance,” and Trump is right to be angry about the deadbeats.
Trump’s hostility toward Europe goes far beyond its military spending, said Ezra Klein in Vox.com. When he looks across the Atlantic, “he sees a scary vision of America’s possible future”: a continent governed by liberal elites, overrun by Muslim immigrants, being strangled by political correctness and international alliances. He sees figures like Merkel and May as champions of a “doomed, fuzzy-headed cosmopolitan vision that his entire political career is dedicated to destroying.”
“This is not just another family quarrel,” said Robert Kagan in The Washington Post, and “things will not be OK.” The Western coalition was “in trouble even before Trump took office.” A massive flow of Middle Eastern and African refugees into Europe has fueled the rise of extreme right-wing parties throughout the Continent. Authoritarian leaders have already seized power in Poland and Hungary. Nationalism has severed Britain from the EU, and the Continent’s remaining democratic leaders desperately need the strong support of the U.S. and its president. Instead, they get Trump, an aspiring autocrat himself, and his “insults and humiliations.” The battle to save democracy from authoritarianism “is the existential struggle of our time,” said Max Boot, also in The Washington Post. America, under Trump, “is on the wrong side.” ■