President Donald Trump started the NATO summit in Brussels on Wednesday with complaints and criticisms, railing against Germany in particular for its energy partnership with Russia.
Though he’s called the alliance “obsolete” in the past, the president, so far in the two-day summit, has stopped short of reducing U.S. participation in NATO missions and supported a statement from NATO leaders on stepping up security against Russia.
Whatever Trump’s endgame might be with NATO, it surely isn’t to promote unity, William Pomeranz, director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies of the Woodrow Wilson Center, told ThinkProgress.
“Clearly, he’s demanding, in a very direct and non-diplomatic way, that the other countries pay what he perceives is their fair share, and clearly he’s calling into question his own commitment to NATO, long term,” said Pomeranz.
“Either there is some sort of underlying method to his madness, or he is indeed going out of his way to treat our allies and our long-standing friends in a less than charitable way,” he added.
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And, odds are, this won’t go the way the president wants it to.
“I don’t believe he best way to deal with your friends is to lecture them. I don’t believe the best way to deal with your allies is to criticize them in public, and to demean them,” said Pomeranz.
And boy is Trump demeaning them — especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who seems to be a favorite target of the president these days.
Trump took a shot at Germany for not spending enough on security and slammed the energy deal it recently signed with Russia, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that increased the amount of gas Russia will be able to to directly send to Germany:
Bilateral Breakfast with NATO Secretary General in Brussels, Belgium… pic.twitter.com/l0EP3lzhCM
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2018
Trump, it should be noted, only criticized Merkel for the deal with Russia, but, Pomeranz pointed out, has not yet tried to block the deal by using available sanctions to target the companies building the pipelines. Nor is Trump likely to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin for the deal when he meets with him in Helsinki on Monday.
But then, Merkel seems to be a neon target for Trump’s frequent darts — for instance, he recently cherry-picked statistics to imply that her migration policy is leading to a higher crime rate in Germany (it is not).
The president said the deal was tantamount to Germany being “controlled by Russia” apparently oblivious to the fact that East Germany was controlled by the former Soviet Union, and that Chancellor Merkel grew up there under communist rule prior to the country’s reunification between 1989 and 1990.
Trump on Wednesday pressed NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a meeting ahead of the summit, “We’re supposed to protect you against Russia and yet you make this deal with Russia…Explain that. It can’t be explained.”
Actually, it can be.
For one thing, Germany has no other source for natural gas — sure, they could pay an awful lot more for natural gas from the United States, but that would make no sense. To use a Trumpian term, it would be a “bad deal.” The only pragmatic thing to do is to purchase natural gas from Russia.
Also, Germany has made commitments to wind down its use of coal and nuclear power, and it needs to move toward cleaner forms of fuel.
It’s not an ideal situation but just like the United States has, at times, purchased energy from the distinctly undiplomatic Saudi Arabia, states sometimes compromise values in the service of keeping the lights on.
Prior to his departure, Trump had repeated the gripe that he and other presidents before him have had with most of the other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries — that unlike the United States, they weren’t spending up to 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.
This, he argues, places an undue burden on the U.S. taxpayer (even though it’s not up to other countries how much the U.S. decides to spend on defense — which for FY2019, is budgeted at a staggering $716 billion).
But when the president uses the same language for trade as he does for security, Pomeranz said he manages to undermine both types of alliances. The difference is that damaging NATO will have far more serious consequences than, say, NAFTA.
“We would lose an alliance that has benefited the United States for the past 70 years. These are the allies who have gone to Afghanistan, who have responded after 9/11, always in solidarity to the United States,” he said.
“What Trump is doing is he is undermining the trust that the alliance was based on, And once that trust is lessened, it’ll be harder for any subsequent leader to reassert it,” he added.