Allies and Former U.S. Officials Fear Trump may Exit NATO in Second Term
Throughout his presidency, Trump has been trying to get America out of NATO, angrily demanding that the members pay more for the collective defense of Europe. As of many reports trump has even talked about exiting the 71 year old military alliance, according to those in the oval office.
In a second term, Trump may as well get the chance. Recent accounts by senior national security officials in the administration have contributed to the growing unease on Capitol Hill and across the EU as they lead to a scenario in which trump, when emboldened by his re-election and potentially surrounded by an inexperienced, 2nd term national security team, could finally undercut or even eradicate America’s membership from the NATO.
Former officials warn that such a move would be one of the biggest global strategic shifts and a major victory for Russia. Trump has stated his interest in leaving NATO, since 2018, new evidence of his thinking has emerged in the run up to the November election.
Trump’s former national security advisor, John Bolton published a book in which he explicitly mentions that Trump wants to quit the alliance. Bolton even speculated in an interview that the president may even leave an “October Surprise” with regard to NATO.
Marine four-star general John Kelly told reporters, “One of the most difficult tasks he faced with Trump was trying to stop him from pulling out of NATO.”
Although the president has repeatedly asked other members to spend more on defense, often betraying confusion about how the 30 nation alliance operates, Trump has not publicly threatened to leave it. During the RNC last week, Trump boasted that he had pressured other members into increasing their, but didn't really suggest any major changes he had in mind for the organization. A 50 point 2nd term agenda released by the trump campaign made no explicit mention of NATO although it featured a point saying that trump will make them pay their fair share.
Security officials in Washington and Europe have taken a breath of relief concluding that Trump is unlikely to challenge the alliance's core tenets before this term, but as the election approaches, experts say that the anxiety is most definitely growing.
Thomas Wright says, “It is a real risk, we know from Kelly and Bolton that he wanted to go much farther in the first term. If he feels that he has been totally vindicated in the election, and he feels that people have endorsed his policies, I think he could effectively withdraw from NATO.”
It is highly likely that congress would allow for trump to exit the alliance, experts say he could otherwise undermine America's position in the NATO in other near- lethal ways. One such way to do so would be his re-interpretation of article 5, which effectively calls for collective defense. Past presidents have taken this as a promise to defend and help members from military attacks, but Trump has questioned it in the past.
Senior Fellow Jorge Benitez at the Atlantic Council, noted that Trump has been wanting to pull out 12000 US troops from Germany, which is the heart of the alliance and has even sought to cut funding for the Pentagon’s European Deterrence Initiative.
European diplomats have even declined to comment on the issue in fear of provoking trump.
Since 2018, Trump has harangued members to meet their collective pledge to spend at least 2% of their GDP on collective defense, which is something only 9 members including the US do as of now.
As stated before trump complains about members who don't pay their “fair share” and even went on to boast at the RNC that he made members pay more, a claim which he has regularly backed by false numbers or as trump said himself, “Member nations were very far behind in their defense payments, but at my strong urging, they agreed to pay $130 billion more a year.” a figure which he said would ultimately go up to 400 billion a year.
These figures are wildly exaggerated, and reflect cumulative spending hikes on defense budgets of NATO members over several years, which goes back to the time when trump was not even the president, and are not, as he claims, annual increases.
Trump has even hinted in the past that he won't come to the defense of members that are not meeting the alliance’s target spending.
Constanze Stelzenmüller, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in special relations with Germany believes that even if Trump doesn't recklessly leave NATO one fine morning, there are a variety of ways that much harm can be done to the alliance.
Reporter: Jovan H