BRUSSELS — Is NATO really that afraid of Donald Trump?
Trump’s first foreign trip as president has so far gone smoothly, and even predictably. At a time when his administration is mired in scandals at home, his journey abroad has been mostly incident-free, including meetings with world leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Rome. But on Thursday, Trump enters a more complicated world of multilateral diplomacy at the NATO leaders’ summit here.
His meetings with various leaders are mostly intended as a kumbaya exercise. But Trump’s wavering stance on NATO — he last called it “obsolete” in January before declaring it “no longer obsolete” in April — has worried allies. So has his long refusal to say he supports Article 5, the provision in the North Atlantic Treaty stipulating that if one of the members comes under attack the others must come to its aid. (The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Trump is expected to finally endorse Article 5 in his remarks in Brussels on Thursday, after having implied that the commitment was conditional on whether allies paid more for their own defense.)
So NATO—the 28-member, 68-year-old military alliance that accounts for billions of dollars in defense spending; the definition of a staid, bureaucratic international institution—joins the list of entities forced to face the conundrum of how to deal with Donald Trump. The Trump-NATO confusion is a sign of how consequential Trump’s open suspicion of existing U.S. alliances and commitments has been on the world stage. The NATO summit this week has reportedly been carefully tailored to him. The agenda is being confined to counterterrorism and burden-sharing — two issues that have been the focal point of Trump’s antipathy toward the alliance. Not on the official agenda: Russia, a NATO spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. Alliance leaders were reportedly told to keep their remarks short during the group dinner to accommodate Trump’s attention span.