If there’s a strategy behind President-elect Donald Trump’s off-the-cuff pronouncements, such as his characterization of NATO as “obsolete,” we can’t figure it out. He couldn’t be more wrong in remarks published Monday denigrating the 67-year-old North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Russia stands foremost to benefit from any attempt by Trump to weaken NATO, so it comes as no surprise that President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was quick to embrace Trump’s remarks.
Why would the president-elect promote Moscow’s interests and place them above those of America and its closest allies? Trump’s NATO analysis serves as a wake-up call to his supporters: Severe dangers lie ahead when a leader repeatedly fails to control the impulse to speak first and consider the consequences later.
In an interview with The Times of London and Germany’s Bild newspaper, Trump described NATO as “obsolete” and repeated threats he made in July to The New York Times to pull the United States back from the alliance if other countries didn’t pay their share of NATO’s costs.
“I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. Number one, it was obsolete because it was, you know, designed many, many years ago. Number two, the countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to pay,” Trump stated in Monday’s published remarks.
His own nominee for secretary of defense, Gen. James Mattis, has openly broken with Trump on NATO and Russia.
As the 70-year-old president-elect should know, age alone does not automatically signify obsolescence. NATO was formed at the dawn of the Cold War, just after World War II. The solidarity and cooperation NATO built has been instrumental in ending centuries of internecine warfare across the continent.
NATO served as the principal brake on Soviet expansionism. Without NATO coordination, a severe sanctions regime would have crumbled against Russia after its seizure and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Russia wants nothing more than for those sanctions to end. NATO has stumbled from time to time, but that doesn’t make it obsolete.
Trump acknowledged that “Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions.” Yet he’s now talking about rolling them back and effectively rewarding Putin for violating international law and engaging in egregious human rights violations. Nothing in this scenario serves U.S. interests, only Russia’s.
Trump suggested to The New York Times in July that if Putin decided to test U.S. and NATO resolve by moving forces into the Baltic states, his administration would not necessarily come to those countries’ defense unless they had first paid their bills.
It’s time for Trump’s supporters to begin questioning the wisdom of such irresponsible statements. At some point in the near future, Trump could turn his words into harmful actions. America’s leadership role in the world requires, first and foremost, a thoughtful leader in the White House.