Trump, NATO, Putin, & the Baltic States

It seems to me that If Donald Trump becomes President, the Baltic States will be at high risk of being wholly or partially overrun by Russian armed forces and incorporated into Russia. I was led to think about this as I reflected on seeing Congressman Seth Moulton at our Memorial Day services at Abbot Hall, since I had recently corresponded with his office about a recent study by the RAND Corporation — http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR1253.html — which found that NATO, as its forces are currently deployed, cannot successfully defend the territory of those states from a Russian invasion. The study further found “that a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades — adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities — could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states.” Would Donald Trump support such a deployment? Given his attitudes toward NATO and toward Vladimir Putin, I don’t think so.

First, here are some reports of recent statements by Trump regarding NATO.
From Reuters, March 21: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said the United States should decrease the amount it spends on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“We are paying disproportionately. It’s too much and frankly it’s a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea,” Trump said in an interview on CNN.

“We have to reconsider. Keep NATO, but maybe we have to pay a lot less toward NATO itself,” he said.

From Fortune, March 22: Donald Trump added another twist to his already unconventional campaign for the presidency on Monday: he became the first mainstream candidate to ever suggest that the United States withdraw from NATO. His rationale? It costs the U.S. too much money.

In an interview with The Washington Post, the Republican frontrunner chided the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO for its expense. He said the U.S. might need to reduce its involvement in NATO in coming years, a move that would flout Washington’s long-standing support for the 28-member military alliance. “We certainly can’t afford to do this anymore,” Trump said. “NATO is costing us a fortune, and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money.”

… He said the United States should not be focused on nation-building overseas; money should be spent domestically instead. “I just think we have to rebuild our country,” he said.

Later on CNN, Trump clarified that he didn’t necessarily want to shrink the U.S.’s role in NATO; he just wanted the nation to pay less.

From CNN, March 22: Donald Trump said the U.S. should rethink its involvement in NATO because the defense alliance costs too much money.
In remarks to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Trump said the U.S. pays a disproportionate amount to NATO to ensure the security of allies.

“Frankly, they have to put up more money,” he said. “We are paying disproportionately. It’s too much, and frankly it’s a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea.”
For instance, Trump said Washington was “taking care” of Ukraine and that other European nations were not doing enough to support the Kiev government that has been locked in a long showdown with Moscow. …

Later in the interview, Trump qualified his remarks saying that the U.S. should not “decrease its role” in NATO but should decrease its spending.

Here’s analysis on March 24 in Business Insder: Geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer said Thursday that Donald Trump’s skepticism of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would give the Kremlin more breathing room on the world stage.

“That’s certainly a reason Putin decided to endorse Trump — he understands that US allies will be supported less in a potential Trump administration, giving the Kremlin more room to maneuver,” Bremmer, who is president of the Eurasia Group, told Business Insider in an email.

Earlier in the day, Trump criticized NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance, as “obsolete.”

“It is time to renegotiate, and the time is now!” the Republican presidential frontrunner tweeted.

Trump argued that NATO, which was formed in 1949 to counter the Soviet Union and nationalist militarism in Europe, should focus more on terrorism. The terrorist group ISIS claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels, where NATO is based, that killed more than 30 people.  …

Considering NATO’s tensions with Russia, Trump’s suggestion that the US might back away from this alliance could be seen as a coup for the Kremlin.

Putin has spoken highly of Trump. And Trump has defended Putin when the US media asks about the Russian government’s alleged assassinations of its political enemies.

This is a change in tone from American politicians who have criticized Russia or emphasized the need to keep the Kremlin in check. …

Trump’s comments are also consistent with his campaign message of negotiating better “deals” for Americans.

“The strongest consistent piece of Trump’s policy platform isn’t to Make America Great Again,” Bremmer said.

He continued:

It’s America First. Blaming outsiders for America’s woes. Mexicans are coming to rape our women. Chinese and Japanese are robbing us blind. Muslim refugees want to come here and blow us up. And the Europeans are free riding on American defense.

Finally, from ft.com, April 3: Donald Trump has stepped up his attack on Nato, saying he would force member nations to leave the transatlantic security organisation unless they contributed more money to what he said was an “obsolete” defence alliance.
The Republican presidential contender has been lambasting Nato since he told the Washington Post recently that he would downgrade the US role in the 28-member alliance, which has formed the cornerstone of the US-European defence relationship for decades.
Speaking in Wisconsin ahead of the state’s primary on Tuesday, he went further by saying that Nato’s demise would not be a serious problem.
“Its possible that we’re going to have to let Nato go,” Mr Trump told supporters in Eau Claire. “When we’re paying and nobody else is really paying, a couple of other countries are but nobody else is really paying, you feel like the jerk.”
Mr Trump said that, if elected US president, he would contact many of the other 27 Nato members and put pressure on them to make a larger financial contribution or leave.
“I call up all of those countries . . . and say ‘fellas you haven’t paid for years, give us the money or get the hell out’,” Mr Trump said to loud cheers. “I’d say you’ve gotta pay us or get out. You’re out, out, out . . . Maybe Nato will dissolve, and that’s OK, not the worst thing in the world.”
Addressing a crowd in Wisconsin on Saturday, Mr Trump asserted that the US was paying 73 per cent towards Nato, but figures from the organisation show that Washington contributes 22 per cent of the direct budget, followed by Germany which pays 15 per cent, and France which puts up 11 per cent. …

With such an attitude toward the alliance, he seems unlikely to want to use American armed forces and money to defend our allies.

 

As for Vladimir Putin, here’s what Trump says.

From The Guardian, July 30, 2015: … He admitted that he had no idea what characteristics he shared with Putin, but the Russians loved him. “I think I would probably get along very well with Russia. I think I would probably get along very well with Putin. I think I would probably get along very well with the people of China.” …

From the Atlantic, December 18, 2015: “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.

I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect.”

From Washington Post.com, December 29, 2015: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump defended Russian President Vladimir Putin against accusations that he has assassinated political adversaries and journalists, responding to criticism from his rivals over his embrace of praise from the Russian leader.

“Nobody has proven that he’s killed anyone. … He’s always denied it. It’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody,” Trump said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, at least in our country. It has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.”
On Thursday, Putin praised Trump during a wide-ranging news conference, calling him “talented without doubt” and “brilliant.” Trump has embraced the remarks, drawing fire from critics such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who facetiously called the alliance “a match made in heaven.” Trump welcomed Putin’s praise, citing it as proof that a Trump administration would be able to work well with the Russians.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, at a campaign event in Iowa, continued to tout praise from Russia’s Vladimir Putin saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if … Russia and us could knock out an enemy together?” (Reuters)
“If he has killed reporters, I think that’s terrible. But this isn’t like somebody that’s stood with a gun and he’s, you know, taken the blame or he’s admitted that he’s killed. He’s always denied it,” Trump added.

 

Given all of this, it is hardly surprising to read in the Wall Street Journal of May 13, “One proposal that has garnered positive Russian attention is Mr. Trump’s suggestion that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization focus on combating terrorism instead of deterring Russian aggression. That alarms officials in Ukraine and the Baltics, former Soviet states that fear they could become Mr. Putin’s next targets following Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian region of Crimea in early 2014.”

It does not seem to occur to Mr. Trump that there can be benefits to the United States other than monetary ones from our alliances, nor does it seem to occur to him that other countries aren’t as well fixed to provide for their defense, nor does it seem to occur to him that small countries certainly cannot maintain or pay for military forces strong enough to defeat aggression from large countries, nor does it seem to occur to him that keeping our word in the form of our treaty obligations to our allies is both legally and morally required.

While NATO was established to defend against a threat that does not now exist, namely expansionist international Communism, Russian expansionism is a new threat, taken seriously enough by RAND for them to undertake their study. Even if Putin would be content to stop at hegemony over the territory of the former Warsaw Pact, there is no justification for is expansion into any of those now independent nations of Europe (or Asia, for that matter). It seems probable that Donald Trump would see no financial benefit, and hence no value, in protecting the Baltics from a Russian takeover. If he could get an agreement from Putin to destroy ISIS, he’d probably think it was a good deal for the U.S. to sacrifice the Baltic States to get that agreement. The risk is too great. We must not elect Donald Trump.

 

 

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