BRUSSELS — NATO leaders once feared President Donald Trump wasn’t invoking the right words to convince Russia that the United States was still serious about defending Europe.
Now they’re worried about something bigger: a full crackup of the alliance, or at least such a weakening of Washington’s security commitments that NATO would emerge deeply damaged.
The heartburn comes ahead of a possible two-headed diplomatic assault from Trump this week. First, he jets to a summit of NATO leaders, where he is expected to continue to complain that Europeans are slacking on defence spending. Days later, he’ll sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin for their first one-on-one summit. European leaders worry that Trump could bargain away their security in the name of better relations with the Kremlin.
European Council President Donald Tusk warned European leaders last month that judging by Trump’s language, allies could no longer assume that NATO would endure. NATO diplomats are making dark jokes about whether Trump and Putin could unveil a globe-shifting alliance of the sort that helped lead to the First World War. Others are considering the legal architecture for a NATO in which the United States is no longer the preeminent player.
“The biggest of the allies doesn’t just have a disagreement with us, but he actually seems willing to walk away,” said Tomas Valasek, a former Slovak ambassador to NATO who runs Carnegie Europe, a Brussels think tank. “Deterrence has already been broken.”
Such sentiments are based on Trump’s words and actions in recent weeks, as he has more fully embraced his own plate-breaking instincts on foreign policy after a first year of being held back by more conventional aides. Few believe that Trump would actually withdraw from NATO — at minimum, they think he would be restrained by Republican partners in Congress. But they worry about moves that could initiate an unraveling.
Europeans fear a repeat of last month’s Group of Seven summit in Canada, when Trump fought with leaders of Washington’s closest allies, then withheld his signature from the bromide-filled declaration that comes out of such meetings as a matter of course.
FILE- In this Thursday, May 25, 2017 file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, right, speaks to British Prime Minister Theresa May during in a working dinner meeting at the NATO headquarters during a NATO summit of heads of state and government in Brussels. U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Britain next week will take him to …read more