Friday, June 2, 2017
Why Trump's Policy Toward NATO Makes War More Likely
History is full of examples that prove the point that deterrence only works if a potential adversary is persuaded that the political will exists to take action in response to aggression. The years before the beginning of World War II show Hitler testing the will of the world to respond to his aggression, and he acted to invade Poland when he calculated that there was no will to come to Poland's defense. In January 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave a speech at the National Press Club in which he publicly declared a defensive containment line against the "Communist menace" in Asia. South Korea was outside that line. Soon thereafter, North Korea invaded South Korea. And more recently, it appears that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait when the U.S. sent signals that it would not come to Kuwait's defense. In each case, uncertainty resulted in miscalculation, and miscalculation leads to war.
This, to me, is the most disturbing part of Trump's trip to Europe: At an event remembering the fact that NATO invoked the Article 5 Collective Defense obligation to defend the United States after September 11, 2001 (the only time in NATO history), Trump declined to state, as every President beginning with Truman has stated, that the United States will meet its commitment under Article 5, to defend its NATO allies. Most troublingly, this refusal to commit to defend our NATO allies came after several campaign speeches in which Trump pooh pooed NATO.
Simply put, Trump has now created uncertainty about the U.S. commitment to our NATO allies. This is dangerous. In recent years, Russia has been quite aggressive in military force against neighbors such as Ukraine (where it seized Crimea and assisted separatists in Eastern Ukraine) and Georgia (where it assisted separatists there as well). And Putin has made troubling remarks about coming to the aid of Russian speakers in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. To date, however, Russia has been careful to take military action only against non-NATO members.
Sadly, Trump's refusal to commit to the common defense obligations to NATO allies, combined with his quite evident hostility to European leaders, has cast doubt on our willingness to come to the defense of the Baltic States (or other NATO nations for that matter). As history has shown, uncertain deterrence leads to miscalculation and war.
Trump does not really have an "America First" policy. His policy is "America Alone", which means a weaker and less influential America--and a policy that has lead to devastating wars in the past. NATO has been a remarkably successful alliance for over 70 years that has greatly served U.S. interests.