From nervousness to rolling eyes: Trump's statements are rejected by diplomats in Brussels. But many also see it as a wake-up call.
BERLIN/BRUSSELS taz | For many Europeans it is déjà vu. Seven years ago, on May 25, 2017, Donald Trump questioned NATO's obligation to provide assistance. The Germans did not pay enough, said the then president of the United States. Former Chancellor Angela Merkel was shocked; The NATO summit in Brussels was a disaster.
This should not happen again, even if Trump gets angry again. Over the weekend, the Republican presidential candidate suggested that under his leadership the United States “would not be able to protect” defaulting NATO countries. “I would even encourage Russia to do whatever it wanted,” he said, citing conversations during his time in the Oval Office.
Will this start again? allies in Brussels asked. Trump is playing with fire, it was said at NATO headquarters. “Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the United States,” warned NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
The nervousness was palpable; Trump had caught the military alliance off guard. Wild conspiracy theories circulated. Analysts rumored that the unpredictable Republican had coordinated with Tucker Carlson and Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin. Together they wanted to wear down US President Joe Biden and NATO.
Willingness to exert limited effort.
But the enthusiasm quickly died down and on Monday Stoltenberg made a new statement. The United States “would remain a strong and committed NATO ally” no matter who wins the November presidential election. He assured that NATO is willing to defend all allies, regardless of defense spending.
The new motto in Brussels is simply not to be provoked. Trump's remarks were “incredibly dangerous,” one diplomat said. However, Europeans are already accustomed to such failures. What's more: they have advanced and enormously increased defense spending. Therefore, Trump's provocations came to nothing.
In fact, most NATO members are now at or above the two per cent threshold agreed in Wales ten years ago. Germany is aiming for 2.0 or 2.1 percent of economic output this year, Poland is aiming for 4 percent and new member Finland spends 2.4 percent.
Experts are optimistic that the spending target will be exceeded across NATO's eastern flank. They expect even more good news before the anniversary summit in Washington in July. Then, the much discussed “burden sharing” will no longer be a controversial issue. “Europe delivers,” is the message.
Without a la carte alliance
Europe wants to continue complying in the future and thus become independent from insecure cantonists like Trump. However, how this should work is controversial. France relies on “strategic autonomy”, even without the United States if necessary. Poland, on the other hand, clearly wants to maintain cooperation with Washington, including bilaterally.
And what does the EU say? “NATO cannot be an à la carte military alliance,” said the head of diplomacy Josep Borrell in Brussels on Monday. It cannot mean “yes now, no tomorrow.” The alliance exists or it does not exist. He did not say how the Europeans could better position themselves and, if necessary, defend themselves without the United States.