Judy Asks: Is NATO Ready for Trump?
A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
Trump’s tactics have achieved in a few months what previous U.S. administrations have not succeeded to do in years: getting Europeans to focus on defense spending and investment.
However, NATO is not ready for Trump. The burden sharing debate has become highly toxic and politicized. America’s transactional approach marks a tendency to bilateralize relations and reduces member states’ commitment to NATO. The alliance is divided between those who seek to preserve their relationship with Washington—including the United Kingdom, as well as Central European, Baltic, and Nordic states—by rushing defense budget increases, and those—such as France and Germany—who diverge from the U.S. president by arguing for a more gradual and comprehensive approach to security. If the latter is perceived by the Trump administration as a pretext to not fulfill the 2 percent defense investment pledge, we can expect transatlantic tensions to increase and U.S. commitments in NATO to be reconsidered. At the same time, the United States is not providing a good example of burden sharing either, by cutting USAID and State department budgets.
To be a credible interlocutor for Trump, European allies need to develop a strategic construct for burden sharing by convincing publics that increasing defense spending is in their interest—and is not being done “because Trump wants it.” For that, both the EU and NATO need to think strategically—beyond summits and election cycles. Unfortunately, because this week’s “meeting” in Brussels is ridiculously brief, the opportunity to have such a conversation among allies will be lost.