Questions still remain – even as the bluster and rhetoric of the campaign still lingers – if Trump’s threats to have the U.S. sit back in the event of an arrears-delinquent NATO member is under attack are valid.
The short answer is, nobody, at this point knows.
The United States needs NATO more than NATO needs the United States.
DOMINATE AT ALL COSTS
In early 1992, a highly classified document detailing America’s long view on global security was leaked to the New York Times. The document, known as the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG), was authored by the then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz, and his deputy Scooter Libby. Indeed, the contents of the document have since come to be known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine.
Both men, it should also be noted, would later earn the unflattering label of “neocons” as they were largely responsible for dragging the U.S. into a maelstrom in Iraq, and in the process destabilizing a whole region to such an extent it, and the whole world, has never fully recovered from.
The reaction to the DPG’s publication was so swift, so intense, and so negative it had to be revised to assuage critics who accused the then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney of trying to move the country’s military posture in a dangerously unilateral direction.
The 1992 Defense Planning Guidance (DPG), which was leaked to the New York Times, laid out a broad vision for the United State's world domination (Photo: GWU archives)
In spite of the revisions, that DPG’s main tenets of treating coalitions as “ad hoc assemblies, often not lasting beyond the crisis being confronted,” would animate much of the U.S.’s embrace of pre-emptive interventions in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion.
It can also be argued the core values in that DPG have never been entirely abandoned, including by the current administration.
According to that DPG, one of the overarching strategic aims of the United States is “precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.” On NATO, the goals are clear: to preserve the alliance “as the primary instrument of Western defense and security, as well as the channel for U.S. influence and participation in European security affairs.”
Further, the DPG says, the United States will seek to “prevent the emergence of European-only security arrangements which would undermine NATO, particularly the alliance’s integrated command structure.”
In other words, no unified European army.
That also means, contrary to Trump’s recent pronouncements, the United States intends to continue using NATO as its main vehicle for safeguarding its national interests in a region it simply can’t afford to lose control over.
Despite being under civilian control, the military-industrial complex very often has a mind of its own, as the president-elect will likely find out in the coming days. Much like his predecessor did when he tried, and failed, to close the controversial military prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Trump may find himself solving the problem by simply ignoring it.
The contradictions inherent in Trump’s attitude towards NATO were captured in a 2015 Meet the Press interview in which he said he didn’t care one way or other if Ukraine was allowed to become part of the treaty. He expressed the same sentiments in a New York Times interview in July in which he said, in essence at least, that “in a deal, you always have to be prepared to walk.”
Suggesting, perhaps, his past statements of purpose were part of a negotiation tactic.
At this point, it is hard to tell if Trump intends to follow through with his campaign rhetoric – the constant bashing of NATO, the demeaning of top Pentagon officers (he said he knows more about the Islamic State than the generals do), and the cozying up to Russia.