President Donald Trump has reportedly suggested on multiple occasions that the United States withdraw from NATO — a maneuver that would roil the global community and signal a major victory for Russia.
Julian Barnes and Helene Cooper at the New York Times reported on Tuesday that in 2018, Trump said several times that he wanted to remove the US from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a military alliance between the US, Canada, and multiple European countries signed in 1949 to contain Soviet expansionism after World War II.
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Trump has made no secret of his disdain for NATO, which he once declared was “obsolete.” According to the Times, his repeated requests to withdraw from NATO have rattled administration officials, especially as concerns about his interactions with Russia and President Vladimir Putin grow.
The report details officials’ efforts to keep Trump contained during the NATO summit in Brussels last July, including pushing ambassadors to finish an agreement on several goals before the meeting to “shield it” from Trump. He discussed internal business in front of nonmembers of NATO, bucking protocol, and complained — as he often does publicly — that NATO members aren’t spending enough on defense.
He reportedly especially took issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her country’s spending of 1 percent of its GDP, per the Times:
A meeting to celebrate NATO’s 70th anniversary planned for April in Washington, DC, has also been downgraded to a foreign ministers’ gathering, and it will no longer take place in Washington.
Trump’s antipathy toward NATO is a good thing for Russia, whether he ultimately withdraws from the agreement (which would require a one-year notification period and likely see pushback from Congress) or not. Moscow benefits from divides between the US and Europe, and Putin has been trying to undermine ties between the two for years.
With the exit of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in December, the situation has become worse, not better. In his resignation letter, Mattis wrote that he believes the United States’ strength is “inextricably linked” to the strength of the country’s “unique and comprehensive system of alliances.” He specifically invoked NATO and pointed out that the 29 countries in the alliance at that time came to America’s defense after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
As Vox’s Alex Ward wrote on the heels of the 2018 summit, Trump doesn’t seem to understand NATO or its worth:
The Times report confirms he still doesn’t get it.