Trump shakes NATO allies

2024-02-18 22:43:00, Kosova & Bota CNA

Trump shakes NATO allies

With a military personnel of 1.3 million, the United States has the largest military in the 31-member NATO alliance with a total of 3.3 million members.

American troops are deployed elsewhere in Europe: in NATO member countries, such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Germany, but also in non-member countries, such as Kosovo or Cyprus. Their purpose is peacekeeping or some other cooperative mission. In Kosovo, NATO's peacekeeping mission, KFOR, currently has over 4,400 soldiers, of which 572 are Americans. Their mandate is to maintain peace and prevent any new hostilities against Kosovo.

Last week, the former American president, Donald Trump, who is expected to compete again in the presidential elections in November, stunned the allies on this side of the Atlantic, with several statements that challenge the unitary character of NATO. Speaking at a political rally in South Carolina, he said the US may not protect allies that do not spend enough on defense if they are attacked by Russia.

"I will not protect you. In fact, I would encourage [Russia] to do whatever the hell it wants. You have to pay. You have to pay the bills," said Trump.

Lemeri - has been the common denominator of the reactions of the allies in Europe. Meanwhile, the American president, Joe Biden, who is most likely to be challenged by Trump in the race for re-election in November, has said that his statements are "dangerous, shameful and un-American".

"As long as I'm president, if [Russian President Vladimir] Putin attacks a NATO member, the US will defend every inch of NATO territory," Biden said. Founded as early as 1949, with the aim of blocking the expansion of the then Soviet Union, the largest military alliance in the world operates on the principle of mutual defense, which means that an attack against one member is considered an attack against all members.

When Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, NATO said it posed "the biggest and most direct threat to the security of allies".

But Trump has a long history of inflammatory comments against NATO. As president from 2017 to 2021, he has repeatedly criticized member states that do not exceed minimum defense spending thresholds and has said on several occasions that he would like the US to withdraw from NATO altogether. To prevent eventual withdrawal, the US Congress passed a law last December that limits the power of the president in this regard.

The law states that the president "shall not suspend, terminate, or withdraw U.S. participation in the North Atlantic Treaty without a majority vote of the Senate or an act passed by Congress."

That, however, does not stop a president from taking actions that divide NATO, says Kurt Volker, former US ambassador to NATO.

Speaking on Radio Free Europe's Expose programme, he says the US president has enormous powers over how the US interacts with allies. He can reduce the number of exercises in which Americans participate, he can stop payments for NATO infrastructure and more.

"He can reduce America's actions and commitments, including the presence in Kosovo, the presence in the Baltic states, or the presence in Germany. As commander-in-chief, there are many options that people have to think about," says Volker.

Even in this scenario, he adds, the US would be obliged to protect NATO allies, but it would not be prepared. According to him, it is not enough just to say that "we are together" - "there must also be capacities".

And this statement is echoed by Kathleen McInnis, NATO expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"The whole discussion has focused on who spends more on defense and we have forgotten the situation as a whole. Without a presence in Europe, the US cannot participate in coalition operations, expeditions, counter-terrorism operations in Africa or the Middle East. "NATO is extremely worth the money that the US gives," says McInnis to Expose. The USA, after Poland, is the largest financial contributor to NATO. NATO's power to deter an aggressor's attacks relies exclusively on US weaponry, Volker says.

"The United States possesses 50 to 60 percent of NATO's military capabilities. They have a nuclear deterrent that covers the entire alliance. I don't think it is easy to replace", according to him.

Many US presidents, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, have also called on European countries to increase defense spending, but most have done so privately.

According to data published by NATO, in 2023, only 11 of the 31 member countries have implemented the alliance's guideline to spend at least two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. "Poland, for example, will spend 4% of its GDP on defense this year. It is also buying modern equipment and building one of the best armies in NATO at the moment. Other countries have also started to do this. But some large countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, have invested little and do not have the necessary capacities", says Volker.

And, it is military officials in countries like the United Kingdom and Germany who have warned their public to prepare for potential war with Russia.

"It's a really troubling moment," says McInnis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"It would take a lot of work to shore up Europe's defense against a possible Russian invasion. The war is now in Ukraine, but there is much speculation that Moscow may shift it to its former imperial territories, which are now NATO countries," she adds. The Kremlin has not commented on Trump's statements, which he himself has repeated this week.

But, the head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, has said that Europe should not try to continue defense alone.

"Any attempt to separate Europe from North America would also divide Europe. My main goal is that, despite our differences, we continue to stay united and protect each other," Stoltenberg said.

And the question worth considering in this situation is: Can NATO survive without America?

"Technically, NATO is an organization of all member countries and if a member country wants to leave of its own free will, nothing changes for anyone. So, technically, NATO will be there, but it won't have the capacities it has with the United States, and that's the difference," says Volker.

"It would be very different. Capacities would be very different. Europe has nuclear deterrents. Both the United Kingdom and France have nuclear weapons. So there is some kind of protection. It would be more challenging, but not impossible," says McInnis. So far, no country has ever withdrawn from NATO. The article in the NATO charter that shows how a country can withdraw is also evidence of how important the US is to the organization.

According to this article, "a country that wants to withdraw must notify the United States one year before it plans to withdraw."

Last week, when Republicans in the US Congress blocked a military aid package for Ukraine, the Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, turned to them with the words:

"Dear Republican Senators of America, Ronald Reagan, who has helped millions of us to regain our freedom and independence, will be rolling in his grave today. Shame on you", Tusk wrote on the X platform on February 8.

Ronald Reagan served as president of the USA from 1981 to 1989. He was known for his determination to destroy communism and the Soviet Union.

Reagan may be rolling in his grave even as his potential successor, Donald Trump, has broken a US promise to defend European allies unless they increase their defense budgets. Moreover, he encouraged Russia to "do whatever the hell it wants" with them./ Rel

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