NATO’s enlargement toward the former communist states in Central and Eastern Europe, its undertaking of out-of-area military operations beyond Europe, its identification of new security threats and adoption of new strategies in line with globalization, and its transformation into an expeditionary alliance in the post-9/11 era have not concealed serious ruptures among its members.
The U.S. has long perceived the alliance mainly as a force multiplier, whereas its European allies tried to make sure that NATO would provide them with institutional capabilities to help shape American priorities and policies. While the U.S. argued for NATO’s globalization in the post-Cold War era, European allies attached importance to NATO remaining a Europe-oriented collective defense organization. The European members of the alliance did not want to see NATO act as a legitimizing platform for unilateral American military involvements across the globe or put them in unwanted contingencies driven by American-only security priorities.
That said, it is worth underlying that following their first institutional meeting with President Trump, European allies acquiesced to American demands that NATO institutionally take part in the U.S.-led coalition against Daesh and that Europeans intensify their cooperation with the United States in the fields of intelligence and counter-terrorism. Despite the lack of a clear-cut consensus on the policies to be adopted toward Russia, this move on the part of Europeans will likely alleviate the American concern that Europeans contribute more to the fight against terrorism and help ease the burden on the U.S.’ shoulders.
However, Trump’s visit to Brussels, coming on the heels of his visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican, should be considered in the context of the U.S.’ evolving attitude toward transatlantic relations. Some observations are offered below.
First, despite the American pivot to East Asia and previous U.S. President Barack Obama’s taking pride in becoming the first American president of the “post-American world,” the U.S. commitment to European security, NATO’s multilateral mechanisms, and the liberal world order had long been constants in American foreign policy by the time Trump occupied the White House.
Despite his volte-face on the usefulness of NATO, Trump has been saying for some time that NATO is obsolete. His predisposition to engage in great-powers diplomacy, transactional bilateral deals, and hard-power diplomacy puts him at odds with the multilateral and collective security underpinnings of the transatlantic alliance.
With Trump now in power, doubts about the survival of the liberal world order and NATO acting as its main pillar will likely increase. The major permissive factor behind the persistence of NATO has so far been the continuation of the U.S.-led liberal world order in which Western powers could brilliantly succeed in shaping the tone of global politics. This can no longer be taken for granted with Trump now adopting illiberal practices in the domestic and foreign policy realms. Trump does not believe that there is a Western international community built on common identity, morality and values.
Second, Trump voiced extremely critical views about the European allies during his election campaign. His vitriolic statements about the meager defense spending of European allies did not strike a sympathetic chord with Europeans. Despite the counter-arguments that Europeans have been substantially contributing to the transatlantic security by other means -- e.g. doling out development aid, setting the global standards on international trade, human rights, and environment policy -- Trump seems to have fixated on the idea that each NATO member spend at least 2 percent of its GDP on the military in line with the decisions adopted at NATO’s July 2016 Warsaw summit. From Trump’s perspective, the United States is a truly global power and it needs to allocate its scarce resources to different quarters of the globe, while Europeans take charge of security responsibilities in Europe and its peripheries. Trump seems to be extremely preoccupied with the issue of burden-sharing within NATO in numerical terms.
Third, since he came to the fore as the frontrunner of the Republican Party in the U.S. presidential elections, Trump has demonstrated a proclivity to mend fences with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. However, Trump’s pro-Putin stance seems to have caused strong consternation on the part of NATO’s European allies, particularly those bordering Russia. Many European members of NATO continue to view Russia as a growing threat to be reckoned with and support the continuation of the sanctions until hopefully producing a positive change in Russia’s behaviors.
The fact that Russia occupied Crimea, supported pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, bolstered the Assad regime in Syria, put the postwar era’s liberal security order in Europe in jeopardy, and tried to affect the outcomes of many elections across the transatlantic community in cyberspace do not seem to bother Trump much, while European members of the alliance have demonstrated a greater willingness than ever to face up to the Russian challenge and bolster NATO’s defense and deterrence capabilities in the face of emerging security threats in the peripheries of their continent.
The continuation of NATO as the linchpin of Europe’s security structure has not only produced an environment conducive to the deepening of the EU integration process but also allayed the concern that the rise of Germany might produce a new hegemonic order in the middle of Europe.
With Trump now questioning the legitimacy of the liberal order and shaking up the foundations of NATO, the EU integration process might not survive the challenges of a potential German hegemony as well as a resurgent Russia. Trump seems to ignore the structural benefits of NATO’s persistence for the U.S. The re-emergence of balance of power politics in Europe in the absence of American commitment to European security through NATO might incur far greater costs in the future than the amount of money that the U.S. currently spends in NATO.
Fourth, Trump supported Brexit and showed his sympathy for populist, anti-globalist, and anti-integrationist candidates during the presidential and parliamentary elections recently held in some European countries, most notably France. While German Prime Minister Merkel warned Trump against the negative consequences of endangering the liberal democratic values of the transatlantic community, the head of the European Council, Donald Tusk, openly referred to Trump’s America as a potential threat leveled against the existing European security and political order.
It is no secret that Trump is not on the same page as new French President Macron and Merkel on such issues as globalization, multiculturalism, openness, migration, and climate change. The tendency on the part of Merkel and Macron to boost the EU integration process and endow the EU with its own defense capabilities might further deepen the transatlantic rift in the face of Brexit and Trump’s “America first” mentality.
Abandonment of principle of equality as a basis for democracy that ought to secure the equal treatment of all of its citizens means that we are witnessing a re-emerging political order
Both America and Russia would have wanted this crisis in Syria to blow over but it appears that a contained military response is unavoidable
Open letters, one after another, accuse Supreme Leader of turning a blind eye to problems preparing downfall of Islamic Republic
Judging by what Donald Trump has been saying about the Syrian civil war for two years, his most recent comments should not catch anyone by surprise
Iranian judiciary’s new strategy against Ahmadinejad is to try and smash him indirectly by pushing him towards confrontation with GIR
Turkish Armed Forces once again proved its advanced capabilities, with Turkey’s defense industry putting forward a visionary roadmap
Increasing support for Islamist politicians is pointing to some changes in the electoral preferences.
Although Saudi Arabia appears to be on brink of radical change, closer look at reform process reveals MBS is after power consolidation
Without reaching a compromise or agreement through regional cooperation by putting aside political disputes, extracting gas in the region will be either too costly, unprofitable, or impossible
Latest election result represents failure of an establishment that has not solved Italian system's biggest weakness
Khamenei seems to be tolerating Ahmadinejad's 'recalcitrance' because neither wants to see Larijani as next supreme leader
Macron is much more successful in masquerading reality of his politics behind cosmopolitan, seemingly liberal face
US is spending money to fund, train, equip terror group working closely with Assad, Iran, to fight NATO ally Turkey
There is a lot of hearsay about the conflict within the Trump administration.
Turkey suffered so much because of its alliance with the US between 2012 and 2016 that now nothing appears deadlier than waiting for the US to act as a real friend.
Prior to this operation, Turkey has made elaborate preparations in terms of military and diplomacy for full-scale action. Information was provided to all interested parties.