“Here’s the problem with NATO: it’s obsolete,” candidate Donald Trump explained during the U.S. election campaign. He went on to suggest that allies that were “ripping off” the United States by failing to make a sufficient contribution to defence spending “would have to get out … And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO.” He cast doubt on Washington’s commitment to the Alliance’s key mutual defence guarantee, saying his administration might choose which allies to defend depending on whether they “fulfilled their obligations to us.”
Since Trump won the election, U.S. and Alliance officials have sought to allay allies’ fears about the potential impact of his presidency on NATO. After a phone call between President-elect Trump and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, an Alliance statement insisted both men agreed on the “enduring importance” of NATO. US diplomats and military officers have been mobilized to explain that what was said on the campaign trail does not reflect future Trump administration policy; that US institutions are stronger than any individual; and there’ll be no fundamental change in the commitment to NATO.
So, which Trump will be running the administration: the candidate who admires Russian President Vladimir Putin and thinks NATO’s had its day? Or the President-elect who wants a stronger alliance?
His nominations haven’t exactly made the waters any less muddy. Trump’s choice for Defense Secretary, Gen. Jim Mattis, is a former NATO commander who has been outspoken on the threat posed by Moscow. His nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is reportedly a buddy of Putin’s who, as CEO of Exxon Mobil, spend years doing oil deals with the Russians. “Tillerson would sell out NATO for Sakhalin oil and his pal, Vlad,” tweeted Mark Salter, a former chief of staff for Republican Senator John McCain, after the oil man’s nomination.
We interviewed Jaromír Štetina, MEP with the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) group and Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence and member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. What did he expect from the Trump presidency?
I do not know and I’m afraid that Mr. President-elect Trump doesn’t know either. But I do have trust in the American democratic system, its checks and balances, as well as the ability to tackle issues effectively.
For another perspective, we also spoke to Anna Fotyga, MEP with the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), member (and former Chair) of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence, and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. What would she say?
Will the Trump presidency put NATO at risk? Or were his campaign statements just bluster to push allies into spending more on defence? Should European allies feel threatened by the prospect of the new administration’s relationship with Russia? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!