Trump condemns leaks amid tension with Europe

Friends indeed? Last month Trump praised Macron’s election rival, Marine Le Pen. © Getty

President Trump and European leaders repeatedly clashed at a NATO meeting in Brussels yesterday. The USA and Europe have a long history of co-operation, but do they still need each other?

The US and French presidents sat next to each other in Brussels yesterday. They shook hands.

Trump tried to pull away. But for an extra moment Macron held on tightly, and Trump smiled stiffly.

The handshake should have been a friendly gesture between allies. Instead it became a subtle sign of the tension at yesterday’s informal summit of NATO leaders. The man who has promised to focus exclusively on American interests faced a power struggle with the darling of Europe, who won the French presidency on a liberal platform this month.

NATO is a 68-year-old alliance which now includes the USA, Canada and 26 European nations. There are signs that it remains strong: it is expanding, and yesterday its leaders agreed to a US-led plan for the fight against Islamic State.

But behind the scenes America and Europe are divided. Yesterday UK police investigating Monday’s terrorist attack temporarily stopped sharing information with their US counterparts after sensitive images and details were leaked to the American press.

The president called the leaks “deeply troubling”, but this was only one sign of a bigger split. Trump has been more hostile to NATO than previous presidents. During last year’s presidential campaign he called the alliance “obsolete”, adding “maybe NATO will dissolve and that’s OK”.

Yesterday he said other NATO countries owed “massive amounts of money” on defence spending and clashed with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, over immigration policy.

European leaders have voiced concern at Trump’s closeness to Russia. And earlier this month a major report advised the UK’s foreign office to distance itself from his “mercurial and unpredictable” leadership in the Middle East.

America and Europe have co-operated closely for decades. US military and economic power played a crucial role during the first and second world wars. NATO was formed to defend Europe against Soviet communism during the cold war. But do the two sides still need each other?

Expendable?

This relationship is now a sham, say critics. Trump is an ideologue who puts his country before all others: his ideology of “America first”. European leaders do not trust him: their own countries are growing closer together and rely on each other much more. Today they can afford to do that, as they do not face as significant danger now as in the 20th century.

Hyperbole, others retort. Trump is a pragmatist, a realist who wants a better deal for his country. The USA and Europe share deep historical bonds, face the same threats and stand for common values. Europe would be too weak to stand up to Russia or beat terrorists without US support. And the USA cannot defend the free world it relies on alone.

You Decide

  1. Do you achieve more by working with others or on your own?
  2. Do the USA and Europe need each other?

Activities

  1. Write down five questions you would like to ask Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of NATO. Discuss in pairs, and as a class, which you think are most interesting.
  2. Create a timeline of US-European relations since 1900. Choose at least ten significant events to include and write a short explanation of why you chose each of them.

Some People Say...

“No agreement made in the 20th century will survive the 21st.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Two pieces of information — US media published or broadcast the identity of the bomber and images from the scene. Trump said yesterday that he would “get to the bottom” of the leak. Currently only the USA, Greece, the UK, Estonia and Poland achieve the 2% of GDP spending target on defence, in line with a 2006 agreement.
What do we not know?
Who leaked the information. Yesterday unnamed British officials told the media they thought it had been spread by someone in a US intelligence agency, not the White House. We also do not know if European nations will increase their defence spending, nor what will happen if they do not. Some suggest Trump is driving a hard bargain as he did in his business career. Others say he is ideologically opposed to multilateral agreements.

Word Watch

NATO
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
Expanding
Montenegro will join NATO on June 5th.
Plan
The allies will share more information and help each other with air-to-air refuelling.
Leaked
Hours after Monday’s attack, CBS and NBC named the bomber. On Wednesday photos of the debris from the attack appeared in The New York Times. British officials had shared the information with US intelligence agencies under a deal called the “Five Eyes” agreement.
Obsolete
In power Trump’s language has been softer. In April he said it was “no longer obsolete”. In February James Mattis, his defence secretary, praised an “enduring transatlantic bond”.
Spending
In 2006 NATO countries agreed to spend 2% of their national wealth on defence. Only five of them, including the USA, currently do. Yesterday Trump called the 2% target “the bare minimum”.
Immigration
Trump said NATO should have “a great focus” on immigration. Moments later Merkel said: “it is not the building of walls that makes us successful”.
Report
Its authors included former cabinet ministers, senior foreign policy advisers and diplomats.

Subjects

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