In the end, the president of the United States did not walk out of the NATO summit or renounce its objectives or scale back his country’s support for the alliance. Why, he even signed the summit’s closing declaration, in which NATO restated its commitment to the sorts of things NATO would ordinarily be expected to stand for. These days that counts as news.
So it was not the complete disaster some had feared. All that Donald Trump did, in the space of 24 hours, was to denounce NATO ally Germany, falsely, as being “totally controlled” by Russia; accuse NATO members, misleadingly, of being “delinquent” in their “payments” for U.S. “protection;” demand, absurdly, that each raise its spending on defence to four per cent of GDP; and ask, rhetorically, “what good is NATO” in a post-summit tweet complaining, inter alia, of how much the U.S. “loses” on trade with Europe.
Whatever the formalities of the summit declaration, in other words, they were belied by Trump’s every other word or deed. This performance, moreover, came after weeks of similar outrages: his attempts, in public statements, to destabilize the already shaky premierships of Theresa May of Great Britain and Angela Merkel of Germany; his reported offer to French President Emmanuel Macron of a special trade deal if he would pull France out of the European Union; his reported musings to aides about withdrawing from the World Trade Organization; all the way back to his petulant eruptions during and after last month’s G7 meeting, and his continuing assault on NAFTA.
The world has learned not to attach any particular importance to Trump’s signature: he has been making and breaking promises from the time he was in private business (not that he ever left). What matters is not the words he signs but the views he holds. The past month makes crystal clear, if it were not already, that he not only has no use for the system of international alliances, institutions and agreements the U.S. helped build and which until now it has led: he is actively working to undermine them.
It is in this light that his increasingly aggressive demands on other NATO members should be seen. Other U.S. presidents, it is true, have prodded their allies to increase defence spending: that was the theme of Barack Obama’s last trip to Canada, disguised as it was by a clever bit of flattery (“the world needs more Canada”). …read more