Trump and the End of NATO? by Finian Cunningham

Donald Trump, painted portrait _DDC9075

Image by thierry ehrmann via Flickr

by Finian Cunningham
Writer, Dandelion Salad
East Africa
Crossposted from Strategic Culture Foundation, July 26, 2016
July 31, 2016

If Donald Trump is elected US president it will spell the end of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. At least, that’s how a phalanx of US foreign policy pundits and establishment figures see it. Trump once again caused uproar recently with comments that were viewed as undermining a “cornerstone” of US foreign policy since the Second World War.

Ahead of accepting official nomination as the Republican party presidential candidate, the billionaire property magnate told the New York Times in an interview that, if elected, he would not automatically deploy American military forces to defend another member of NATO if it were attacked.

As the NYT noted Trump’s conditionality regarding NATO was the first time any senior American politician has uttered such a radical change in policy. It overturns “American cornerstone policy of the past 70 years”.

Trump was asked whether he would defend Eastern European countries if they were attacked by Russia.

(Hypothetical, propagandistic nonsense, but let’s bear with the argument for the underlying logic that it exposes.)

Trump did not give the customary automatic, unconditional “yes” response. Rather, he said he would have to first review whether these countries had fulfilled their “obligations to us”. If they had, then, he said, US forces would defend. If they hadn’t lived up to past financial commitments to NATO, then the inference was that a would-be President Trump would not order troops to defend.

The reaction to Trump’s comments was explosive. NATO’s civilian chief, Jens Stoltenberg, was evidently perplexed by Trump’s equivocal attitude. “Solidarity among allies is a key value for NATO”, said the former Norwegian prime minister. “This is good for European security and good for US security. We defend one another”.

Stoltenberg was just one of the many pro-NATO figures on both sides of the Atlantic who stampeded to slam Trump for his comments.

The rightwing American Enterprise Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations, and senior foreign policy makers within the Republican and Democrat parties all unanimously berated Trump over his views on NATO. Estonian and Latvian political leaders also expressed deep anxiety on what they saw as a withdrawal by the US from Europe’s security.

Reuters reported a joint letter from a US bi-partisan group of “national security” experts who condemned Trump’s “inflammatory remarks” for not representing the “core interests” of the United States.

“The strength of our alliances is at the core of those interests”, said the group. “The United States must uphold the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s commitments to all of our allies, including Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania”.

Reuters also quoted a former US ambassador to the alliance as saying that Trump’s policy means: “It’s the end of NATO”.

Robert Hunter, who was NATO envoy under President Bill Clinton, added: “The essence of NATO, more than any other single factor, is the commitment of the United States of America to the security of the other 27 members”.

The Los Angeles Times quoted former NATO supreme commander, US General Wesley Clark, as saying that Trump’s stance “undercuts NATO’s deterrence in Europe”. Clark said that the comments showed that Trump has a fundamental misunderstanding of how the alliance works. “It will mean the end of the European Union and the collapse of the US’s largest trading partner”.

The former NATO military chief also made the snide comment that Russian leader Vladimir Putin would be “happy” with Trump’s shift in defense policy. As did Hillary Clinton’s senior policy advisor, Jake Sullivan, who made the inane assertion that “Putin would be rooting for Trump” to win the November presidential election.

It is not the first time that Donald Trump has shown an irreverent disregard for NATO and other military partnerships which have been the hallmark of US foreign policy since World War Two. Previously, during the Republican primaries in March, the presidential contender told the Washington Post he would withdraw US troops from Japan, South Korea and the Middle East if regional allies did not shoulder more of the defense burden in terms of boosting financial contributions.

Trump says that his view of drawing down overseas American military forces is part of his “America First” policy. He told the New York Times this policy means: “We are going to take care of this country first before we worry about everyone else in the world”.

In a certain sense, Trump’s worldview is laudable. Given the immense challenges for fixing the US economy, impoverished communities, post-industrial unemployment and crumbling infrastructure, of course it does not make sense for the US to maintain over 1,000 military bases overseas in over 100 countries.

And, as Trump has pointed out, it is the US that pays the lion’s share of the budget for its military partnerships. In the 28-member NATO alliance, the US pays 70-75 per cent of the entire budget.

But here is where Trump gets it fundamentally wrong. His premise of the United States functioning as a benevolent protector is misplaced. If that were the case then, yes, Trump’s point about the arrangement being “unfair” would be valid.

However, NATO and the US’s other military umbrellas in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, are not motivated primarily about maintaining security and peace. These military pacts are all about providing the US with a political, legal and moral rationale for intervening its forces in key geopolitical regions. The massive expenditure by the US on military alliances is really all about maintaining Washington’s hegemony over allies and perceived enemies alike. The reality is that America’s “defense” pacts are more a source of relentless tensions and conflicts. Europe and the South China Sea are testimony to that if we disabuse the notional pretensions otherwise.

In all the heated reaction to Trump’s latest comments on NATO the over-riding assumption is that the United States is a force for good, law and order and peace.

Under the headline “Trump NATO plan would be sharp break with decades-long US policy”, this Reuters reportage belies the false indoctrination of what US and NATO’s purpose is actually about. It reports:

“Republican foreign policy veterans and outside experts warned that the suggestion by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump that he might abandon NATO’s pledge to automatically defend all alliance members could destroy an organization that has helped keep the peace for 66 years and could invite Russian aggression.”

Really? Maintaining peace for 66 years? Not if you live in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, or Ukraine and Syria where NATO powers have been covertly orchestrating and sponsoring conflicts.

Also note the unquestioned insinuation by Reuters that without NATO that would “invite Russian aggression”.

If we return to the original question posed by the New York Times, which sparked the flurry of pro-NATO reaction, the newspaper put it to Trump like this:

“Asked about Russia’s threatening activities, which have unnerved the small Baltic States that are among the more recent entrants into NATO, Mr Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing if those nations have fulfilled their obligations to us”.

The NY Times, like so many NATO advocates who went apoplectic over Trump, is constructing its argument on an entirely false and illusory premise of “Russia’s threatening activities”.

Unfortunately, it seems, Trump bought into this false premise by answering the question, even though his conditional answer has set off a firestorm among NATO and Western foreign policy establishments. Can you imagine the reaction if he had, instead, rebutted the false assertion about there even being Russian aggression?

But this fabrication of “Russian threat” is an essential part of the wider fabrication about what the US-led NATO alliance is really functioning for. It is not about defending “the free world” from Russian or Soviet “aggression”, or, for that matter, from Iranian, Chinese, North Korean, or Islamic terrorist threats. In short, NATO and US military “protection” has got nothing to do with defense and peace. It is about protecting American corporate profits and hegemony.

Ever since its inception in 1949 by the US under President Truman, NATO is a construct that serves to project American presence and power around the world, as well as propping up its taxpayer-subsidized military-industrial complex. The most geopolitically vital theatre is Europe, where the European nations must be kept divided from any form of normal political and economic relations with Russia. If that were to happen, American hegemonic power, as we know it, is over. That’s what the alarmism among the NATO advocates over Trump is really about.

Trump’s declared aim of withdrawing US forces from overseas and of cutting down NATO is admirable, even if his reasoning is faulty and imbued with false notions of American benevolence.

If he were to implement such policies, then indeed the American facade of NATO might well collapse. Which would be an immeasurably good thing for restoring peaceful international relations, especially with regard to Europe and Russia, despite what the reactionary, rightwing Russophobic European states might say.

But here’s the thing. Trump does not seem to understand how deeply important NATO or US militarism elsewhere around the globe are to American hegemony under its corporate capitalist system. If and when he does actually try to implement his policy, he will encounter formidable forces that he probably isn’t aware of yet.

Without a massive popular mobilization, Trump will not be allowed to implement such a challenge to the foundational premise of modern American power. The US military-industrial-intelligence complex will see to that.

The last American president who tried to rein in the corporate power of US militarism was John F Kennedy. He was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in broad daylight by the CIA-Pentagon and their contract killers. And for 53 years, the entire American media and law enforcement establishments have brazenly covered up that shocking truth in the fashion of a “ministry of truth”.

Potentially, Trump’s stance on NATO is damaging to the military alliance, and could even precipitate a terminal decline. That is why the reaction to his comments has been so fierce, and is also why he won’t be allowed to get away with such a policy if he is elected.

This is not mean, however, to sound defeatist. Of course, US militarism and its war-mongering imperialist foreign policy could be overturned. American hegemony is not divinely ordained. But such a radical, fundamental change in direction will require a massive popular movement among ordinary Americans. It will not be achieved on the basis of one fiery politician’s words.


Finian Cunningham, is a columnist at the Strategic Culture Foundation and a Writer on Dandelion Salad. He can be reached at cunninghamfinian@gmail.com.

from the archives:

Hillary Clinton: A Threat to All Humanity

Michael Hudson: Trump Policy Will Unravel Traditional Neocons

Michael Hudson: US-NATO Border Confrontation with Russia Risks Nuclear War

Why the British Said No to Europe by John Pilger

NATO’s Anakonda: A Beast That Preys on Its Own? by Finian Cunningham

John Pilger: The Threat of World War Three

Silencing the United States as It Prepares for War by John Pilger

see also:

Russia Expert Stephen Cohen: Trump Wants To Stop The New Cold War, But The American Media Just Doesn’t Understand

Full Spectrum Dominatrix vs. Off Spectrum Narcissus by Pepe Escobar

10 responses to “Trump and the End of NATO? by Finian Cunningham

  1. The crazy thing is that so many Trump supporters love Reagan and credit the “Star Wars” plan as part of what caused the Soviet Union to collapse.

    Funny thing is we have built something about as good as SDI could ever have been. And it’s all ground and ship based. It relies on radars in Poland and ships in Estonia.

    Bill Clinton, W, and Obama have made something as close to Reagan’s dream as is practically possible.

    Will Trump throw thayt AWAY?

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  6. Facebook Comment 1

    “From all appearances, Donald Trump is a clown who does not seem to understand how the profit driven web of hegemonic American foreign policy functions (a web which Hillary Clinton has played an important role in spinning & upholding). Perhaps it takes a clown, however, to wander into this web & clumsily disrupt its foundations with a simpleton nationalist narrative of “American first?”

    As this excellent article addresses, NATO is not a force for peace, benevolence and stability in the world. To exist, it must provoke threats into existence and create a continuous flow of mythologies about foreign “aggression.” NATO does not serve the interests of ordinary Americans nor does it protect global humanity. It steals tax dollars that might otherwise finance critical infrastructure and societal health to advance American hegemony and the profit interests of well connected corporations & financiers. And, if Trump ever seriously challenged this beast, he very well might end up like the last American President to do so, John F. Kennedy.

    The good news is that NATO and American hegemony is crumbling under its own weight & sociopathic greed. Perhaps, this is why we are seeing the usual war profiteer parasites flocking to the Clinton campaign & infusing it with the kind of contributions which transform a Democratic Convention into a jingoistic rally for amped-up militarism at the expense of the party’s alienated Leftist wing.”

    • Good point . a couple of ideas here : the regressive left -neo liberalism ( Democrats) is the exact opposite of the true progressive left that is non interventionist . ..Green party , Socialist party etc….

      second : as to your it takes a clown ….. agreed . Let me put it this way – When Jeb Bush called Trump a ”Chaos candidate” it was a compliment coming from a family that was part of the propping up the New World Globalist order.

      This Order that has oppressed the World needs to be broken up by Chaos . So – Trump is not the answer , but he can break up the International Elite Order with pure Chaos as President . That i view as the reset button .

      He still does not earn my vote because of a whole host of other things , but it helps me make sense of the situation at hand as i see it .

  7. That movement is upon us . The new Populism of which Trump is a part of is as he says ” Americanism vs Globalism “.

    This has existed in the past with the America First movement on both right and left as a reaction to The Wilson Presidency and the League of Nations which has been nothing but a global disaster .

    Anti Interventionism is at hand and Trump won’t be bullied by the globalists .

    • If you’re right Rocket & I’ve little doubt you are, then thinking the unthinkable is swiftly becoming the norm.

      I wholly agree with Finian’s general position. Political imagination is one thing; facts of life unpalatable to neo-cons are quite another. These are indeed unprecedented times.

      Bruce Gagnon has thoroughly deconstructed the NATO brand ~ the security arm (enforcer) of the corporate-military matrix, that has always served the neo-imperialist interests of US expansionism and full-spectrum dominance. The proud keystone of the big-toy-boys’ uber-design.

      The seemingly endless paranoia about Russia needs to be urgently redressed. This notion that US interests can control Russia is just puerile and a-historic/hysteria. The main reason we have a President Putin is because the Americans ‘vomited up’ as Hedges says, that thoroughly red, white and blue, vodka-marinated Yeltsin avatar.

      I am no great admirer of Vladimir Putin, but….what did they expect?

      Isn’t it better to deal with a fluently German-speaking brain-box than yet some other look-alike mafiosa-czar? The problem is not Putin but the arrogant naivete of US globalists. Russia is never going to be conquered or intimidated by Washington ~ end of story; anymore than China will ever surrender to the odoriferous round-eyes.

      The US must face up to the hard facts of a multipolar, multilingual world. If apologists for NATO want to act from strength, they should at least concede the blindingly obvious and cut loose from the Gladio-logues!

      • Agreed. In all due fairness to Trump …he has said over and over and over that the cold war is over and that we must talk to Putin . And though i like you are no fan of Putin , i think that The American Empire has so much lust toward Eurasian Hegemony that they will keep this madness up with the propaganda that the Russians are our enemies . They are not .

        The only person who is talking that narrative are the Democrats and Hillary Clinton . The Green party nor the Libertarians nor Trump see them as enemies at all .

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