Analysis: America Can’t Rein In Trump, And The World May Have To Pay

Analysis: America Can’t Rein In Trump, And The World May Have To Pay

NATO is the only multilateral grouping where the US continues to be a principal mover and shaker by a wide margin, but it is also an extremely vulnerable alliance

Sachin KalbagUpdated: Thursday, February 15, 2024, 01:48 PM IST
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Former US President Donald Trump | File Pic

Last weekend, America’s 21st century version of pre-1933 Adolf Hitler (minus the military service) — Donald Trump — said at an election rally that he once told a NATO leader that he will let Russian President Vladimir Putin “do whatever the hell he wants” to any NATO member that does not pay its full dues to the Americans. You know, protection money.

Trump, by his own admission, told the president of a NATO ally, “No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them (the Russians) to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills.”

Trump has no love lost for NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, because he feels that it has no relevance for the US, and that the US alone pays for the protection of smaller nations against possible attacks by Russia or any of its allies without any reciprocal gesture from the Europeans.

NATO is a Euro-American military grouping which, to cut a long story short, was formed after World War II wherein European and American member states promised to defend each other when attacked by a belligerent third party. NATO’s combined military forces are in excess of 35 lakh and some of its members are nuclear-armed. NATO’s combined defence spending is more than 55% of the world’s total. It currently has 31 members even though it started with 12 in 1949 (Sweden is expected to be the 32nd soon). A key reason for Putin invading Ukraine in 2022 was that it wanted to join NATO.

Why is NATO important? In the words of retired Admiral James Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander at NATO and current vice chair, global affairs at The Carlyle Group and the Chair of the Board of the Rockefeller Foundation, “As the tools of offensive cyberwarfare continue to grow — making definitive attribution of an attack difficult to achieve — Russia might be tempted to subvert smaller NATO allies in the Baltics or the Balkans. Doing so, Moscow might calculate, could create fissures in the alliance as the larger nations debate their willingness to fight for a tiny ally. Over time such a strategy could cleverly apply pressure to the real Achilles’ heel of NATO, its already shaky political will. It would be a smart tactical move by Putin, who seems increasingly prepared to bet that the answer to the foundational question — Would you die for NATO? — is, for many, no. President Trump is compounding that danger.”

Interestingly, Admiral Stavridis said this in 2019. Nothing has changed in the last five years; in fact, Trump’s position has hardened since then. Trump’s vile and violent rhetoric in his campaign speeches and policy statements has alarmed everyone in Washington, including his Republican colleagues. But they are helpless, because Trump has not only decimated his rivals in the party — he has become a party of one.

If he wins the US presidential election this November, the Republican Party, which is already genuflecting to Trump’s commands, will positively be stomped under his boots. The latest example being Trump not endorsing the Republican candidate fighting the election to win the seat vacated by disgraced Republican Congressman Tom Santos.

The candidate in question — Mazi Melessa Pilip — lost the election to Democrat Thomas Suozzi on Tuesday, February 13. This means that the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has narrowed to 219-213. There are currently three vacant seats, left open by two Republicans (including one by former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California) and one Democrat. The new Speaker, Mike Johnson, can only afford to lose two votes on any measure. Although Republicans have one more vote than a typical majority, the three vacancies mean they can lose up to two votes and still pass Bills if all lawmakers are present.

Republicans, therefore, know how and why Trump is important for the very survival of their party this year and beyond. It is for this reason that they cannot rein him in. And it is for this very reason that not just the US, but the rest of the world will have to pay if he comes to power. Trump’s foreign policy literally puts the globe in peril.

Fortunately, some wise lawmakers in Washington anticipated this. They got together and passed a law that prevents any President from disbanding American involvement in NATO without express permission from Congress, and that too with two-thirds majority.

Trump will have a workaround for this too. He will simply keep quiet in the face of aggression against any NATO ally. He will most likely not allow American troops to participate in military exercises (all NATO supreme commanders have been American) with NATO allies. In addition, his options are to reduce the number of soldiers deployed in Europe or withhold America’s financial obligations to NATO. He does not have to listen to Congress.

American influence over the rest of the world has diminished. It has not been able to stop Israel from killing a disproportionately high number of Palestinian civilians — 27,000 as per the latest estimate — in the war that was started following the Hamas terror attack on Israel on October 7, 2023. China facilitated a Saudi Arabia-Iran thaw in March last year after years of bitter rivalry that had destabilised several West Asian countries such as Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. That détente was aimed at Israel and the US. American aid to Ukraine has dropped to a trickle, and will be saved only by a spending bill that will see the light of day this week.

NATO is the only multilateral grouping where the US continues to be a principal mover and shaker by a wide margin, but it is also an extremely vulnerable alliance, given that Russia has not been weakened by any of the western sanctions after its invasion of Ukraine. It is this vulnerability that will become a big black hole if Trump withdraws from NATO, and it is quite likely that the rest of the world will have to pay a price.

Sachin Kalbag, Senior Fellow at The Takshashila Institution, is a former Washington Correspondent and editor of Indian newspapers. Email: sachin@takshashila.org.in. Twitter: @SachinKalbag

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