Richard Wagner explains the declining tensions and growing common ground between President Trump and the NATO alliance

Yesterday, President Trump met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.  During the campaign, Trump was critical of NATO allies, including Germany, for not living up to the Wales pledge to contribute a minimum of 2% of their GDP towards defense.  

This forces the US to pick up more than its share of the burden for an agreement that could be seen as more beneficial to European allies, as NATO has historically kept Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) at bay.  

Many worried that Trump, as President, would cripple the NATO alliance.  However, as tensions have risen with Russia following the alleged sarin gas attack in Syria, NATO allies may be reassured that Trump will continue the US support for the NATO alliance.

The 2% pledge

Yesterday morning, a conference call with members of the press, including The Pavlovic Today, discussed the upcoming meeting between President Trump and NATO Sec. Gen. Stoltenberg.  First, a roughly 3-minute introduction was given, which briefly highlighted the Trump administration’s continued commitment to NATO, but also emphasized the need for NATO allies to live up to their obligation of 2% GDP towards defense.

Following the introduction, several members of the press were able to ask questions.  The very first question highlighted tensions between Trump and the NATO coalition, asking if the meeting with Sec. Gen. Stoltenberg would be an awkward encounter.  Trump’s spokesman simply responded in about a sentence that the encounter would not be awkward.  

Trump’s spokesman wouldn’t answer questions on anything stated by candidate Trump but focused on the policies of President Trump.  The spokesman did explain that Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed her willingness to bring Germany’s portion of GDP on defense up to the 2% pledged at the Wales Summit in 2014.  

The spokesman, however, was then asked if Trump would apply this 2% retroactively, as Trump promised to do so on the campaign.  The questioner also explained that Trump claimed that this retroactive 2% would go to the US, to make up for the US baring more than its share of the defense burden.  The spokesman indicated President Trump had no plans to apply the 2% retroactively but does intend to pressure NATO allies to meet their 2% pledge going forward.

Montenegro joining NATO

The spokesman was asked about Montenegro joining the NATO coalition, which some worry will antagonize Russia.  The spokesman expressed President Trump’s strong support for Montenegro entering the NATO alliance, highlighting how Montenegro is already playing a crucial role in NATO’s efforts in Iraq and is contributing a larger portion of its GDP to defense than many present NATO members.  Hence, the 2% pledge continues to be the focus.

The New Cold War

Expressing the concerns of much of the politically interested population, the questioning concluding with a broader concern about NATO and Russia.  A press member asked if heightening tensions with Russia could be leading us back towards “a posture closer to the Cold War.”  

The spokesman referred to Defense Secretary, General Mattis, who has stated that he wants to avoid escalating tensions with Russia.  However, the spokesman refused to discuss the conflict in Syria.  He did, however, emphasize that Russia must uphold their end of the Minsk agreement, relating to the Ukraine (a more immediate concern of NATO allies).  

What to watch for

Given President Trump’s past favorability with Putin, the subject of Russia is likely to be a point of concern for Stoltenberg.  Stoltenberg, therefore, likely has the goal of ensuring that the US will stand by Western Europe to check Russian expansion.  Trump will be looking for a commitment from Stoltenberg that NATO’s European allies will live up to the Wales pledge of 2% GDP towards defense.  As Stoltenberg is Norwegian, and his entire political career is European, he certainly has a strong grasp on the intentions of western European members of NATO.  

Richard Wagner is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Florida State College at Jacksonville. He conducts independent study on the American conservative movement and foreign policy. When he is...

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