NATO, the once rock-solid defense pact of the richest and most powerful nations on both sides of the Atlantic, for months has been shaken to its very core.
The mighty military alliance has not been unsettled by the latest bellicose maneuvers by Russia, however, or nuclear development by North Korea. It is becoming undone because of the existential threat posed by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Within months of Trump’s assuming the office of president, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was already sounding the alarm that America could no longer be seen as a reliable partner and ally. Europe, she warned back in May 2017, would have to take its “fate into our own hands.”
Two-and-a-half years into Trump’s presidency, as America’s customary role as the linchpin of the postwar transatlantic alliance continues to erode, the nation’s shaky role at the helm of alliance has become a campaign talking point.
It became a topic of discussion again this weekend, when former Vice President Joe Biden warned that NATO will die if Trump is reelected.
“Let me put it this way, if he wins re-election, I promise you there will be no NATO in four years or five years,” Biden told CNN in an interview that aired on Friday.
Biden said the weakening of ties with America’s closest allies is a grave mistake. “Look, the idea that we can go it alone with no alliances for the next 20 or 30 years is a disaster,” Biden told CNN.
“I come out of a generation where we were trying to be the policemen of the world. We can’t go in every place. We need allies,” Biden said, adding that rather than drawer nearer to America’s friends Trump is “stiff-arming” them. “He is absolutely dissing them.”
Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is not alone among the 2020 presidential candidates in expressing fear for the fate of the 29-nation alliance of North American and European countries.
The erosion of America’s standing in the world — and especially with its closest allies, as Trump cozies up to autocrats in Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere — has become a full-blown campaign issue.
Rep. Seth Moulton (MA) said in February shortly before announcing his presidential candidacy that Trump’s handling of NATO shows that the time has come “to rethink its strategic role and purpose. Now is the opportunity…to renovate and strengthen it for a new world,” and even floated “whether it makes sense to establish a Pacific NATO to counter China.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA) said during last month’s presidential debate that he sees Russia as the biggest geopolitical threat facing the United States, and pledged that if elected he would “break up with Russia and make up with NATO.”
Sen. Michael Bennet (CO) during the debates promised to “restore the relationships that he’s destroyed with our allies.” Many of the other 2020 contenders expressed similar views, including Washington state governor Jay Inslee who name Trump as the biggest geopolitical threat faced by the United States.
Trump, since long before he was elected president has taken issue with America’s membership in military alliances and economic trade unions, saying he prefers bilateral ties and negotiations. He has also complained about the cost of U.S. participation in NATO, usually citing a far higher price tag than what Washington actually pays.
And Trump has bristled at the notion of America being obligated by a treaty to come to the aid of another NATO member if it is attacked, even though in the 70-year-long history of alliance, that provision has been invoked just once — following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, when other NATO nations rallied to America’s side.
Biden had other complaints about Trump’s foreign policy worldview, mostly having to do with the way that he has upended the global order.
“He’s embracing thugs. He’s embracing Kim Jong Un, who is a thug. He’s embracing Putin, who is a flat dictator,” an exasperated sounding Biden told CNN.
“Look at what’s happening with Putin. While Putin is trying to undo our elections, he is undoing elections in Europe. Look at what’s happened in Hungary. Look at what’s happened in Poland. Look what’s happened in Moldova,” he said.
“Look at what’s happening. You think that would happen on my watch, on (Barack Obama’s) watch?” he added. ”
“You can’t answer that, but I promise you it wouldn’t have. And it didn’t.”