Trump threatens to favor enemies over friends, and threatens to turn the international order upside down

Shortly after former President Donald J. Trump took office, his staff explained how NATO’s mutual defense commitments would work.

“Do you mean that if Russia attacks Lithuania, we will go to war with Russia?” He replied. “This is madness.”

Mr. Trump has never believed in the basic concept of the Atlantic alliance, which is “one-for-all and all-for-one.” Indeed, he spent much of his four-year presidency undermining these militaries, while strong-arming members into fulfilling their commitments to spend more on their militaries while threatening that he would not come to their aid otherwise.

But he took it to a whole new level over the weekend, announcing at a rally in South Carolina that he would not only defend European countries that he saw as lagging behind the Russian attack, but that he would go further. “Encouraging Russia to do whatever the hell they want.” Against them. Never before has a President of the United States indicated that he is inciting the enemy to attack America’s allies.

Some may dismiss this as a typical Trump threat or write it off as a poor attempt at humor. Others might welcome a tough stance against supposedly failed allies who, in this view, have benefited from American friendship for too long. But Trump’s rhetoric heralds potentially far-reaching changes to the international order if he wins the White House again in November, with unpredictable consequences.

Moreover, Trump’s talk once again raised uncomfortable questions about his taste in friends. Encouraging Russia to attack its NATO allies, even if not entirely seriously, is a stunning statement that highlights his strange rapprochement with President Vladimir Putin, who has already demonstrated his willingness to invade neighboring countries that do not have NATO protection.

Trump, who has long hated alliances of any kind, may, in a second term, be able to end the security umbrella that has guarded friends in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East for nearly eight decades since the end of World War II. . Simply suggesting that the United States cannot be relied upon would negate the value of such alliances, push old friends to hedge and perhaps ally with other powers, and embolden the likes of Mr. Putin and Xi Jinping in China.

“Russia and China have nothing to compare to America’s allies, and those allies depend on American commitment,” said Douglas Lute, a retired lieutenant general who served as ambassador to NATO under President Barack Obama and a senior adviser to President George W. Bush. Regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Questioning the United States’ commitment to its allies sacrifices America’s greatest advantage over Russia and China, something that neither Putin nor Xi could achieve alone.

Trump was not deterred by the criticism directed at his latest comment, but rather doubled down on his position on Sunday.

“No money should be provided in the form of foreign aid to any country unless it is in the form of a loan, and not just a gift,” he wrote on social media in capital letters. He added: “We should never give money anymore, without hope of recovery, or without attaching ‘conditions’.”

It’s been a long time coming for Mr. Trump He threatened to withdraw The United States will leave NATO and will no longer be surrounded by the kind of advisors who prevented him from doing so last time. He tried to withdraw US troops from Germany at the end of his presidency in anger at then-Chancellor Angela Merkel, a withdrawal that was only blocked because President Biden arrived in office in time to overturn the decision.

At other points, Trump considered withdrawing US troops from South Korea as well, and then talked about, but he has said since leaving office that such a move would be a priority in his second term unless South Korea pays more money. compensation. Mr. Trump is also likely to cut off military aid to Ukraine as it seeks to repel Russian invaders, and has offered no support for further aid to Israel in its war with Hamas.

Anticipating the possibility of America withdrawing from the world if Mr. Trump returns to office, Congress recently passed legislation preventing any president from withdrawing from the NATO treaty without Senate approval. But Mr. Trump would not even need to formally withdraw from the alliance to render it meaningless.

If the United States cannot be relied upon to help its partners in Europe, where it has the strongest historical ties, other countries that have mutual defense agreements with Washington such as Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama cannot be sure of help. American.

Peter D. said: Mr. Feffer, a Duke University professor and former national security aide to Mr. Bush and President Bill Clinton, said Mr. Trump could reduce U.S. forces in Europe to a level that “would render any military defense plans hollow” and “systematically impoverished.” “Expressing US commitment” in a way that would convince Mr. Putin that he had the freedom to act.

“Just doing those two things could hurt and even kill NATO,” Mr. Feffer said. “And few allies or partners in other parts of the world will trust any American commitment after seeing us break NATO.”

History suggests that this may lead to more wars, not fewer. When Secretary of State Dean Acheson described a US “defensive perimeter” in Asia in 1950 that did not include South Korea, North Korea invaded the region five months later, starting a bloody war that nonetheless attracted the United States.

The signal Mr. Trump is sending to NATO allies such as Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is that they may be on their own by next January. This comes just days after Mr. Putin told Tucker Carlson about it Poland was responsible for Adolf Hitler’s invasion in 1939The mood in Warsaw could not be more turbulent.

“Article 5 has been triggered so far once — to assist the United States in Afghanistan after 9/11,” Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, noted in an email on Sunday. “Poland sent a brigade for ten years. We did not send a bill to Washington.”

The disdain Mr. Trump has expressed for NATO is… Based on a false premise Which he repeats for years even after being corrected, is a sign that he is either unable to process information that conflicts with an established idea in his head or willing to distort facts to fit his preferred narrative.

As he has done many times, Trump criticized NATO partners, whom he described as “latecomers” in paying the costs of American protection. “You have to pay,” he said. “You have to pay your bills.”

In fact, NATO partners do not pay the United States, as Mr. Trump has implied. NATO members contribute to a common budget for civil and military costs according to a formula based on national income and have historically fulfilled these obligations.

What Mr. Trump is misleadingly implying is This is the goal set by NATO Defense Ministers in 2006 That each member spends 2% of its gross domestic product on its military, a standard that NATO leaders endorsed in 2014 as they looked to achieve it by 2024. As of last year, Only 11 out of 31 members It has achieved that level, and last summer NATO leaders pledged a “sustaining commitment” to eventually reaching that level. But even those who do not owe the United States money as a result.

Among the members who spend 2% of their economic output on defense are Poland and Lithuania, and this number has increased in the past two years after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO. Other countries have pledged to increase spending in the next few years.

NATO spending is a legitimate concern, according to national security experts, and Mr. Trump is not the first president to pressure NATO partners to do more; Mr. Bush and Obama have also done so. But Mr. Trump is the first to present the alliance as a kind of protection racket in which the United States abandons those who do not “pay,” not to mention being attacked by Russia with Washington’s encouragement.

“NATO’s credibility depends on the credibility of the man who occupies the Oval Office, because the decisions taken there will be decisive in critical situations,” said Carl Bildt, the former prime minister of Sweden, who is close to completing his accession. To the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as its 32nd member.

“This applies to what could be crisis management with some sort of simple approach to the ultimate issue of nuclear deterrence,” he added. “If Putin threatens nuclear strikes against Poland, will Trump say he doesn’t care?”

Trump’s obsession with receiving money from allies extends far beyond Europe. At one point it is He attacked the mutual defense treaty with Japan Which had been in effect since 1951 and at other points he prepared to order United States forces out of South Korea. During an interview in 2021 shortly after leaving office, he made it clear that if he returned to power, he would demand that South Korea pay billions of dollars to keep US forces there.

(Actually, South Korea It pays $1 billion annually It spent $9.7 billion on expanding Camp Humphreys for American forces. Mr. Trump has said he wants $5 billion a year.)

National security experts from both parties said the thinking misunderstands the value of alliances for the United States. They say it is beneficial for Americans to have overseas bases in places like Germany and South Korea that allow rapid response to crises around the world. It also deters adventurism on the part of pariah states like North Korea. “America’s commitment to its allies is not altruistic or benevolent, but serves a vital national interest,” Mr. Lott said.

The uncertainty that would result from Mr. Trump’s lack of commitment would lead to volatility not seen in years.

“The only saving grace is that he would probably be so untrustworthy and unpredictable that even the Kremlin would be a little unsure,” Bildt said. But they will know that they have a fair chance to play him politically in any crisis.

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