Trump itching for a fight as key summit opens

Crumbling: A protest banner from 2014 anticipating the death of NATO. © Getty

Is NATO obsolete? As the military group meets in Brussels today, Trump will demand that European nations pay more for defence. Some say the old alliance cannot survive the new Trumpian age.

It has been dubbed the most successful military alliance in history. But as NATO leaders meet today, their accord is in jeopardy. Why? President Donald Trump.

Consisting of 29 states (all European except the US and Canada), NATO’s key function is to protect its members from war. If one nation is attacked, all others must come to its defence. The US is NATO’s richest and mightiest member, and the alliance has long relied on American firepower.

This is where Trump comes in. He has repeatedly accused European leaders of reneging on their own defence spending commitments; ripping off the US in the process: “NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair!” he tweeted the day before the summit.

On this issue, he has a point. NATO members are expected to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defence, but in 2017 only five did. The US is the biggest contributor and currently spends 3.5%.

Those at the summit can expect a Trumpian tongue-lashing demanding all members pay their fair share. But this is not the only reason its leaders are nervous.

There is also Trump’s bromance with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. Russia and NATO are historic adversaries — the accord was established in 1949 primarily to halt the expansion of the Soviet Union.

Since then, the alliance has helped prevent major conflict in Europe. But recent Russian aggression has made NATO leaders wary. Meanwhile, Trump (their supposed ally) is embracing Putin with open arms.

He is due to meet Putin at a private summit on July 16, and some worry he will prioritise US-Russia relations ahead of his NATO counterparts.

All this fits into a broader pattern of Trump’s scorn for international agreements and institutions. He has withdrawn the US from the UN Human Rights Council, UNESCO, the Iran Deal and the Paris climate accord; sparked a trade war with the EU; and trashed key allies at this year’s G7 summit.

As columnist Edward Lucas states, Trump’s “America First” approach is “based on ruthless self-interest, not multi-lateral organisations run according to rules and values.”

Is NATO obsolete?

US and them

Its days are numbered, some respond. NATO is a relic: designed to counter a communist danger that no longer exists, and too reliant on America. What’s more, the nature of conflict has changed. Cyber attacks and terrorism are now the West’s major threats — which NATO is ill-equipped to deal with.

NATO is still relevant, others respond. New nations want to join, and as a deterrent, it has been crucial in limiting Russian expansion in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, it is not just about war. The group promotes democracy, liberal values and the rule of law: ideals that are more crucial than ever.

You Decide

  1. Is the “special relationship” between the US and the UK dead?
  2. How likely is another major war in Europe?

Activities

  1. The main purpose of NATO is to prevent a major war breaking out in Europe. Overall, do you think war is becoming more or less likely in the world in general? Think of three reasons why it is, and three reasons why it is not. Which side do you agree with?
  2. Watch the first video in Become An Expert. It explains the purpose of NATO and how it works. Take notes on the key points as you are watching. Then write a definition of the organisation in 10 words or less. Share you definition with the class.

Some People Say...

“We are going to put America first, and we are going to make America great again.”

President Donald Trump

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Since the formation of NATO in 1949, member states have only had to activate the mutual defence protocol once. This was to defend the US following the 9/11 attacks. This led to NATO forces joining the US in their invasion of Afghanistan. Furthermore, NATO countries also sided with the US-led fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
What do we not know?
How solid the future of NATO is. During Trump’s election campaign he slammed the organisation as “obsolete”, however he has since gone back on that comment. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the US ambassador to NATO, has been more positive. Last week she claimed that the “major overall theme” of today’s summit was “NATO’s strength and unity.”

Word Watch

NATO
Founded in 1949 to promote peace following the Second World War. NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
29 states
The alliance was founded by 12 states, which included the UK, France and the US. Germany joined in 1955, and the most recent addition was Montenegro in 2017.
Five
These were the America, Britain, Greece, Poland and Estonia.
Aggression
For example, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 was the first forcible land grab in Europe since 1945. Russia is also thought to be behind the nerve agent attack on Yulia and Sergei Skripal. In a recent development, another civilian, Dawn Sturgess, died after handling the discarded nerve agent. Her partner, Charlie Rowley, was also poisoned and remains in hospital.
UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Trashed key allies
For example, he called Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, “very dishonest and weak”, and imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminium.
Multi-lateral
Something agreed upon by three or more parties, especially the governments of different countries.