13. Mai 2016

US Elections Series II: Trump’s Foreign Policy – Nay to NATO, Aye to Russia

Trump is one of the most polarizing figures among right-wing populist politicians all over industrialized nations. The most glamorous asset giving him this kind of polarizing attention is the lack of consistency and empathy regarding his political standpoints – especially on NATO.

A comment by Daniel Weimert


When Trump gave his speech on April 27 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. about his foreign policy agenda, he confused Democrats and Europeans alike by wanting to diminish future U.S. NATO engagements to put “America first”. In the same week, Obama addressed the need for rather more European NATO engagement during his visit at the Hanover Trade Fair. Some days later, Angela Merkel confirmed to increase Germany’s NATO engagement during Latvian head of government Kučinskis’ Berlin visit in order to respond to Eastern-European worries concerning Russian aggression. Now, how would this dynamic and NATO engagement on both sides of the Atlantic change if Trump gets elected POTUS in not much longer than 6 months time?

Trump’s Randomness

When talking about his foreign policy goals at the Mayflower Hotel, Trump clearly stated that his foreign policy will replace “randomness with purpose, ideology with strategy, and chaos with peace”. On a side note, randomness actually just might be the key word in his administration. Trump discussed security measures and NATO by stating that only 4 out of 28 other NATO member countries besides the U.S. are spending the minimum required 2% GDP on defense. Moreover, Trump argued that the U.S. has supported NATO immensely to build up a strong defense for Europe and Asia, who should now pay for the cost of their defense themselves.

At the same time, however, he stressed that under his administration America will finally be a strong and reliable ally again. A strong and reliable ally, who according to Trump “always” puts itself first and who’ll prepare to let European countries defend themselves if they should fail to pay their fair share. Yes, in his speech in Hanover, Obama did say that European countries could still do more regarding NATO, but he did not say he would leave Europe ‘defenseless’, which is a position Trump comes quite close to in his interview with the Washington Post.

A Friend in Need…

…is a friend indeed! Trump would be in fact a good ally and friend – not to the Europeans but rather to Putin, who said in an annual news conference about Trump, “I think that I would probably get along with him very well.“ Three months later, Trump said in his Washington Post interview, “(…) our big threat today is terrorism. Okay? And NATO’s not really set up for terrorism. NATO is set up for the Soviet Union more than anything else. And now you don’t have the Soviet Union.” Indeed, we do not have the Soviet Union any longer, but we do, however, have Putin, who just up to a while ago supported Assad in Syria, still bans human rights organizations in his country, restricts freedom of the press and has Russian jets fly in international air space with their transponders turned off. On that note, we should not be quick to assume that NATO is no longer a necessity or merely an expensive accessory. Instead, we should rather consider a stronger U.S. American and European led NATO vis-à-vis Russia.

Take a Bow

So how does Mr. Trump’s foreign policy on NATO favor Russia? With a shortening of U.S. support, NATO would lose much of its financial and military power, which might result in disastrous consequences especially in the Baltics and Eastern Europe. Plus, the recently discussed Montenegrin membership would surely remain the only one of its kind. The protocol for Montenegro’s NATO membership will be signed later in May and is more of a symbolic gesture than anything else, since neither Montenegro’s manpower nor its 2% GDP share would really be much more than a drop in the ocean.

It does, however, demonstrate NATO’s expansion in the East, which not only undermines its presence but also its values and manpower in South-Eastern Europe. But Trump is not a man for symbols and his administration would certainly not support future Eastern-European membership candidates, who won’t be able to contribute a significant part. Montenegro as well as many of the Eastern-European countries are states that, according to him, would most likely be reasons why „NATO is costing [the U.S.] a fortune (…) and (…) [is] spending a lot of money.“

When it comes to Ukraine, Trump points to other European countries and especially Germany to solve the crisis and enforce Russian compliance to the Minsk Agreement, since “Ukraine is a country that affects us [the U.S.] far less than it affects other countries in NATO.” So even though Trump stated in his foreign policy speech that he unlike Obama will not be the president who “bows to U.S. enemies”, it is actually he himself, who does the favor to Putin, who will surely benefit from a decreased U.S. NATO interference in Europe.

Turn the Tables

It might actually seem that if Trump gets elected, a U.S.-European alliance or even friendship could possibly turn into a destructive partnership in foreign policy, while Russia and the U.S. could after all shake hands on NATO. Wannabe-President of the United States Trump said in his foreign policy speech, “the countries we [the U.S.] are defending must pay for the cost of this defense and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice!”

Yes, we do. And it’s up to the American people to turn the tables.


This article is part of our temporary coverage of the US presidential elections 2016. If you want to join Polis180 and contribute to this series, please contact our Peace and Security Programme. The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s members. Published comments express solely the authors‘ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180. Image: http://bit.ly/1YppGCE.


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