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NATO between the past and the future: to the results of the Alliance Summit in Brussels (May 25, 2017)

NATO is currently undergoing a systemic crisis. A sufficiently powerful and well-functioning military machine is not clearly aware of its mission in the new geopolitical conditions of the 21st century.

The key points of D.Trump’s speech in Brussels

Firstly, D. Trump called on the heads of NATO member states to observe a minute of silence for the victims of the terrorist attack in Manchester. At the same time, the American leader noted that the US partners in NATO swiftly responded to the events of September 11, 2001, for the first time in the history of the Alliance, fulfilling their obligations in accordance with the provisions of the Article 5 on Collective Defense.

Secondly, D.Trump reiterated that the call for elimination of terrorism was the message he addressed to the participants of Riyadh summit (May 21, 2017): “The leaders of the Middle East have agreed at this unprecedented meeting to stop funding the radical ideology that leads to this horrible terrorism all over the globe” [1]. This thesis of D.Trump can be interpreted as the US recognition of the very fact of financing the radicals and terrorists by a number of Arab states (Iran was not mentioned in this speech at all).

Thirdly, D. Trump said that in the future NATO should focus on terrorism and immigration, as well as on threats from Russia and on the eastern and southern borders of the alliance [2] (thus, Russia was in fact equated with terrorism and illegal migration as a threat to NATO’s security).

Fourthly, D. Trump once again expressed his resentment for the insufficient financial contribution of European countries to the NATO budget: “NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations, for 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for their defense” [3].

D.Trump recalled that over the past 8 years, the US spent more on defense needs than all other NATO countries combined. In his opinion, if in 2016 all NATO members allocated only 2% of their GDP on defense, now NATO would have had an additional $ 119 billion for collective defense and additional reserves.

Moreover, according to the American leader, “even 2% of GDP is insufficient to close the gaps in modernizing, readiness, and the size of forces. We have to make up for the many years lost. Two percent is the bare minimum for confronting today’s very real and very vicious threats” [4].

It should be noted that on May 30, 2017, D. Trump returned to this issue and once again reproached Germany for not making enough contribution to NATO: “They pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change” [5].


American politicians and experts on the results of the summit

Supporters of D.Trump approved his speech at the new NATO headquarters. For example, Forbes columnist Doug Bandow said that the results of the NATO summit should please Americans. According to him, after the Cold War the Alliance did not have any real tasks justifying its existence, and the share of Europe in the military power of NATO was constantly falling. The reason for this defiance of the defense is that most European countries do not see any real threats to their security. Therefore, D. Trump is right, demanding that European countries fulfill their obligations. It’s time for Europeans to begin to bear the same burden of defense spending with American taxpayers, or organize their own defense accordingly [6].

Political opponents of D.Trump believe that his behavior at the summit in Brussels was not entirely correct. So, according to the former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, D. Trump’s visit left Europe in disarray: “G7 and NATO are our clubs, these are our communities. This is the western world and the result from this trip is that there are discord and disarray in these clubs, and nothing could be better for Mr. Putin. Especially I would add that the bar was low in terms of unity. It would have taken very little from the president, because everybody had such a low expectation from him saying a few comforting things to those two groups to reaffirm unity. The fact that he did not is a victory for Russians” [7].

A former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns said that D.Trump failed to address the threat from Russia and did not show Europeans his leadership skills: “He only fleetingly, in two or three words, condemned the threat from Russia. What’s on the minds of those European leaders behind him? Vladimir Putin invading countries in Eastern Europe. They need American leadership to contain the Russians and the president barely mentioned that” [8].

Charles Kupchan believes that Trump used his speech in Brussels to criticize NATO members for burden sharing, but he should go further and seriously identify the issue of restoring ties with the Kremlin, calling for a halt to NATO enlargement: “Fueled most recently by Russian interference in the American election and differences over Syria, tensions between Washington and Moscow compromise American interests in Europe, the Middle East and beyond” [9].

“The New York Times” notes that D. Trump looks at NATO “as essentially a transactional arrangement, not as an indisputably important alliance that has kept the peace for 70 years and whose value cannot be measured in dollars and cents”. According to the newspaper, “Mr. Trump’s repeated scolds are not just condescending but embarrassing” [10].

Ian Bremmer, president of “Eurasia Group” consulting firm, believes that because of D. Trump’s actions Europe will distance itself from the US: “There will be some move towards more coordination of European-only security, and there will be less coordination with the United States” [11].


Europe’s response to the results of the NATO summit

During the summit the leaders of Europe kept a low profile, but after a few days they began to issue rather harsh statements. In particular, Germany’s Chancellor A. Merkel said on May 29, 2017: “the times when we could rely on others are a bit far away. We are and remain close partners. Germany is and will remain a close partner of the United States of America. We are and remain convinced transatlanticists. But we also know that we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands” [12].

The observer of the Czech edition of “Natoaktual.cz”, Martin Ehl, states: “The two main conclusions of the summit can neither be questioned nor underestimated. First, from now on, NATO will become more active in the fight against the “Islamic state”, although this does not mean that soldiers will start to fight under the flag of the alliance in Syria or Iraq. Second, the European members of the alliance, which are under increasing pressure, will now have to significantly increase defense budgets” [13].

At the same time, at the NATO summit, D. Trump did not declare Washington’s firm commitment to the Article 5 and collective defense. As a result, “an extremely reliable ally turned into a country whose allegiance to allied ties is in doubt, and the leader of this country does not understand this fact and somehow does not even try to hide it or fix it” [14].

The expert of “Deutsche Welle” Bernd Riegert was more categorical in his assessments: “At the NATO summit in Brussels, US President Donald Trump acted like a diplomatic bully. He arrived late, then shoved the Montenegrin prime minister aside to ensure his place in the front row. He turned what was planned as a short ceremonial address into a lengthy tirade against allies. Trump demanded imaginary money from NATO members to which he is not entitled. His speech was full of provocations and profanities. Many heads of state and governmental leaders were shocked” [15].

Bernd Riegert also draws attention to Article 5: “What is alarming is that, unlike all his predecessors, the American president has refrained from specifically committing to the solidarity of the alliance and providing assistance in case of self-defense. Does this mean that he thinks that NATO, the Western military alliance, is superfluous? Doubts about Trump’s attitude are understandable. Can allies in Eastern Europe now really rely on the US to stand with them if they are attacked by Russia? Misgivings about the US’s commitment, as the most important protection force, would shake the whole alliance. This will please the Russian leadership surrounding Vladimir Putin. In the end, Trump has contributed to destabilizing the alliance. His stance towards Russia remained unclear at the NATO summit in Brussels” [16].


Conclusions and generalizations

Firstly, the main message of D. Trump reached its goal – following the results of the summit, the members of the Alliance adopted national plans on military spending increase to 2% of GDP. The first assessment of these plans will be held in December at the meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs.

Secondly, the Alliance approved the establishment of a new terrorism intelligence cell and the appointment of an anti-terror coordinator. At the same time, NATO will not participate in direct combat operations against jihadists.

Thirdly, during the NATO summit, a decision was made to admit Montenegro into the Alliance (this step is a serious blow to Russia’s positions in the Balkans).

Fourthly, the NATO summit confirmed its special approach to relations with Russia – through defense and dialogue.

Fifthly, the NATO summit in Brussels demonstrated not so much the military-political unity as the mental disunity of the NATO member states on the most important issues of the Alliance’s activities. D. Trump showed some arrogance and reluctance to hear his European partners.

In general, despite a number of fundamentally important decisions, the Brussels summit once again confirmed that NATO is experiencing an existential crisis. Real and imaginary threats are bizarrely mixed in the minds of the Alliance leadership, which makes it impossible to build a logically consistent hierarchy of challenges and threats. As a result, the Alliance risks becoming a “paper tiger”.


[1] Remarks by President Trump at NATO Unveiling of the Article 5 and Berlin Wall Memorials – Brussels, Belgium //https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/05/25/remarks-president-trump-nato-unveiling-article-5-and-berlin-wall

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Trump keeps up criticism of Germany //http://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/30/politics/trump-germany-merkel-trade/index.html

[6] President Donald Trump Spoiled NATO Party In Brussels And Americans Should Thank Him // https://www.forbes.com/sites/dougbandow/2017/05/26/president-donald-trump-spoiled-nato-party-in-brussels-and-americans-should-thank-him/#7c764b6c7345

[7]Is Russia Already Starting to Win on Foreign Policy? //http://www.msnbc.com/mtp-daily/watch/is-russia-already-starting-to-win-on-foreign-policy-956410435656

[8] Former Ambassador: Trump’s NATO Address Barely Mentioned Threat From Russia // http://insider.foxnews.com/2017/05/25/trumps-nato-address-barely-mentions-threat-europe-russia

[9] NATO Getting Too Big to Succeed? //https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/25/opinion/nato-russia-donald-trump.html?_r=0.

[10] President Trump Fails NATO //https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/opinion/donald-trump-nato-russia.html?ref=opinion&_r=0.

[11] The Daily 202: Gianforte’s victory after assaulting reporter reflects rising tribalism in American politics //https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/daily-202/2017/05/26/daily-202-gianforte-s-victory-after-assaulting-reporter-reflects-rising-tribalism-in-american-politics/59275c2ae9b69b2fb981dba2/?utm_term=.e42fdf5d2d3f.

[12] Rede von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel bei der 17. Jahreskonferenz des Rates für Nachhaltige Entwicklung am 29. Mai 2017 in Berlin //https://www.bundesregierung.de/Content/DE/Rede/2017/05/2017-05-29-rede-bk-nachhaltige-entwicklung.html;jsessionid=3503D0E367CA0D098F2811829236DD3A.s1t2

[13] NATO po schůzce s Trumpem: Nejde jen o peníze, ale v prvé řadě o společnou vůli // http://www.natoaktual.cz/nato-po-schuzce-s-trumpem-nejde-jen-o-penize-ale-v-prve-rade-o-spolecnou-vuli-1bx-/na_analyzy.aspx?c=A170529_131311_na_analyzy_m02

[14] Ibid.

[15] Opinion: The bull in a china shop //http://www.dw.com/en/opinion-the-bull-in-a-china-shop/a-38990638

[16] Ibid.

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