Natasha Bertrand has more on the fears of NATO allies about the upcoming summit and the Trump-Putin hobnob. After discussing Trump’s latest tweet asserting that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election—because Putin told him so—she points out that:
The timing of the president’s tweet makes it even more significant: The remark came amid increasing anxiety about next month’s nato summit in Brussels, which will be immediately followed by Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Putin in Helsinki. nato was founded in 1949 as Europe’s answer to the Soviet Union, and the 28-member alliance continues to serve largely as a counterweight to Russia’s ambitions in Eastern Europe. Russia invaded eastern Ukraine and forcibly annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, and Poland currently hosts U.S. armed forces and nato units who move between Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in an effort to deter Russian aggression…. Meanwhile, Trump has reportedly slammed nato as “as bad as nafta,” a trade deal he has repeatedly decried, and did not explicitly endorse Article 5 of nato’s founding document—known as the collective-defense clause, which stipulates that an attack on any member is an attack on all—during last year’s nato summit.
Trump’s public credulity when it comes to Putin’s supposed denials of interference come with a health dose of motivated bias, but his tendency to make spontaneous decisions his belief that such “unpredictability” makes him a superior negotiator has NATO allies worried. Bertrand continues:
“Most of the Europeans I’ve spoken to assume we will see a repeat of the G7,” said Julie Smith, a former Defense Department official and director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. “There’s been no consultation on the issues that Trump wants to address with Putin—is it nuclear arms control, which nato members would support, or is it selling our friends in Ukraine upriver and promising to lift sanctions?” The White House has said only that “the two leaders will discuss relations between the United States and Russia and a range of national-security issues.”
“Everybody in this town is worried about the possibility of the North Korea scenario being replayed with regard to Russia,” said Tomáš Valášek, who served as the Slovak Republic’s ambassador to nato between 2013–2017. But he said he believes the analogy is lacking in that Congress has shown a willingness to challenge the president on his Russia policies—lawmakers passed a bill last year, with overwhelming bipartisan support, to impose new sanctions on Russia—and to support nato’s expansion. (Last April, to Russia’s outrage, the Senate approved 97–2 a treaty granting nato membership to the small European nation of Montenegro.)
“Unlike in Korea where the president tried to do what many in nato fear might happen—that is, sign a weak deal with a local troublemaker while seeking to reduce the U.S. military’s regional activities and commitments—Trump would likely run into far stronger congressional resistance this time,” Valášek said.
A while ago Dani Nedal and I laid out the case against Trumpian unpredictability in Foreign Policy; whatever temporary excitement Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-un might have generated, I think that our arguments have held up well. Given that one of America’s central foreign-policy tasks is managing a complex alliance network during a period marked by shifting global power, the downside risks of unpredictability outweigh whatever possible benefits we might point to.
Indeed, it’s probably worth noting that the reduction in tensions with North Korea almost certainly isn’t even an example of “unpredictability” yielding benefits—if we assume that the summit doesn’t go down as anything other than a strange anecdote in histories of US foreign policy. But this is a discussion for another post.