UPDATED VERSION – Since the Republican candidate, Donald J. Trump became the President-elect of the United States many began speculating whether his foreign policy will be isolationist or interventionist. Of course, such simple answers are impossible to give, but it’s safe to say that he will try his best to have an unpredictable one, as he stated many times.

Such questions appeared even through the campaign, during which he didn’t get into exact details of how he’d handle things. When speaking about foreign policy, some pillar points come in mind that are decisive for the direction or overview of a strategy, in this case: NATO, relations with Russia, China, the Middle East, North Korea and nuclear proliferation.

The following assessment comprises conclusions and facts from Trump’s foreign policy advisers, his personal statements and empirical prospects. This edition explores his clear stance on NATO.

NATO and the current security environment

The President-elect stance on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has sparked controversy and attracted a lot of criticism. He called the organization as being “largely obsolete” and said that “it needs to be changed”. His arguments are that NATO was founded with the sole purpose of deterring the USSR, which it did, and that Terror is now our main enemy – a threat that NATO can do very little to defeat. Another argument is that NATO costs the US too much and the speeding is unequal among the other members.

Are these points valid or farfetched?  

Well… NATO was indeed the product of a bipolar international system and successfully kept the USSR in check. After the Cold War, the collective defense organization had its fair share of anti-terrorism fights with NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, through others – did it succeed in this “business”? Not quite. That’s why the Alliance underwent many reforms in order to adapt and better respond to the current security environment that culminated with the 2010’s New Strategic Concept adopted at the Lisbon Summit. The doctrine boosted the organization’s core tasks by adding Crisis Management and Cooperative Security among the traditional Collective Defense. This move marked that the decision makers understood that the traditional national defense is challenged by the 21st Century international security paradigm. Cooperation with regional states, such as the Mediterranean Dialogue or the Istanbul Cooperative Initiative, received a rank-up in the organization’s modus operandi.

So the Alliance underwent many attempts to modernize and keep up, but in matters such as terrorism, there are still things to be done. However, after some soul searching NATO did regain its purpose facing a growing resurgent Russia that threatens European Security. The missile defense system, strengthening of cyber security and heavy US presence in Europe managed to keep Russia off NATO allies, but it didn’t stop Russia from invading Georgia, Moldova or Ukraine. They’ve created artificial breakaway regions that contain frozen conflicts, fueled by Russian soldiers or friendly assets that escalate the conflict whenever it’s needed. Lately the Kremlin indulged in even more direct threats or bullying that threw Europe in a Cold War-era tension. Why did this happen?

Shortcomings: Was it NATO’s fault?

It’s easy to observe that the Obama administration failed to project enough power in a smart way. In Ukraine, as in Syria, Obama drew lines that the Russian’s kept violating calling Washington’s bluff; and it worked. Obama failed to keep to his threats so US credibility and power reduced. Ukraine hasn’t received lethal aid in time to really count on the battlefield and the Syrian policy is like a rubric cube fighting back-type of mess. The Obama administration failed to intervene when Assad crossed that red line imposed, and used chemical weapons. Iraq is going better than in Syria but the Iranians are hijacking the political leadership and imposing a Shi’a-led system – that is mostly to blame on the overhasty pull-out from the war and the unwillingness to keep the oil reserves. If the oil reserves would have been contained, then probably ISIS would not have became what it is today. The terror group made a fortune from selling oil.

The Arab Spring was a failure of which meltdown is still in progress – new dictators managed to appear, civil wars broke-out and terrorist organization found new safe havens. Israel feels abandoned, while Russia, situated in a very weak and weary state, actually managed to grab power in the Middle East thanks to the vacuum created.

NATO’s role in these failures is minimal if at all. NATO is simply a framework, that problem consists in individual States; the US can’t do everything by itself, while European allies, France, Germany, except UK, are not much of a help. In fighting terror, cooperation with regional Allies is key. And there’s no need to even mention the Gulf States, that lead chaotic trigger-happy policies that sometimes were against the US interest, conduct unchecked covert ops with questionable groups, and did not got involved as a partner in NATO’s affairs in the region. The conclusion is that NATO can be tweaked and used in many ways, so the framework isn’t really the problem. The problem is that some members have been military inactive, by downsizing their expenditure and their activity in the military sector, while regional partners are simply bench-warmers. They just enjoy the fruits of being US allies, but do not much to contribute. Overall American allies have gotten used with the good life and managed to escape not chipping-in enough. This is where I wanted to get with the NATO situation.

NATO budget and contributions

Out of 28 members, one state, the US, contributes 75% of NATO’s budget – that is a problem, and it’s barely a new one. Almost every US President since the 90’s has pressed the other members to pay-their fair share; even Obama had a strong position about it (until it didn’t in the election):

“Free riders aggravate me,” he [President Barack Obama] told me. Recently, Obama warned that Great Britain would no longer be able to claim a “special relationship” with the United States if it did not commit to spending at least 2 percent of its GDP on defense. “You have to pay your fair share,” Obama told David Cameron, who subsequently met the 2 percent threshold.[1]

A solution the unbalanced contribution problem was accepted at the 2014 Wales Summit, where all Allies pledged to raise their GDP expenditure for defense to a 2%. As of this moment, only 5 countries (US, UK, Estonia, Poland and Greece) have done so, with some (as Romania) to do it by 2017.

Art of the Deal

Trump’s position on NATO is seen from a business perspective: is it profitable? Is it efficient? You could say that the US has a large interest by maintain influence and partnerships with Europe, so the effort does translate in achievements. But it should also be emphasized that the European states have the biggest interest here, especially the Eastern European ones. For them, having US protection is an existential matter, but the other way around, it’s simply a strategic one. Trump knows this, thereby he began negotiating early, that’s what he’s doing since his comment on NATO in his campaign.

 

“COOPER: You really think NATO is obsolete?

TRUMP: I think it’s largely obsolete, yes.  It’s got to be changed.  It’s got to be – you don’t talk about terror.  Our single biggest threat right now is terror, okay?  Now that’s an amorphous term, but it’s terror.  Our single biggest threat.”[2]

Trump also called out the inaction of European allies in regards to Ukraine:

“You have countries that surround Ukraine.  They don’t talk.  They don’t seem to have a problem.  I’m not saying go in. I’d say be very strong, you can be strong without necessarily even being (INAUDIBLE) or the money we spend[3].

Another important matter we need to finally and openly address. Why do we have certain allies that don’t seem to be genuinly bothered by Russia’s activity on our eastern flank? Why do we have allies that are by-passing sanctions? And why are we not addressing them?

The Minsk Agreements have repeatedly failed; the only thing they’ve succeeded is to legitimize the “Russian-speaker’s cause” and to recognize Russia as the diplomatic representative of  the separatists/ Russian soldiers. While soft power measures taken, as economic sanctions, many countries have tried to evade them. Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline joint venture through the Baltic Sea that Gazprom has entered into with some of the largest European energy companies (Eon, BASF/Wintershall, Engie, OMV, Shell), is leading to renewed controversy within the EU. Germany’s vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel in a recent visit to Russian president Putin declared that Nord Stream 2 is “in our interest; but it is not just in Germany’s interests, it is a very interesting project even beyond Germany’s borders”, adding that he hoped the project’s legal framework will remain under the competence of the German authorities. If it will, “then opportunities for external meddling will be limited”, he said.  There you have it, some “countries that surround Ukraine” (as Trump named them) are even helping Russia strengthen it’s energy monopoly over the EU. But nowadays you see these countries as pushing the “Trump is Russian stooge” narrative.

Poland is particularly worried that its neighbor, Germany, could bury them under more Russian energy blackmail and pressure. The German Foreign Minister,  Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has openly supported Russia to return to their G8 seat – which they lost after invading Ukraine. The politician is also known for his condemnation of NATO exercises on the Alliance’s eastern flank: “The one thing we shouldn’t do now is inflame the situation with loud sabre-rattling and warmongering

It should be noted that any Kremnilogist, adviser or export on Russian affairs known  that the only language that Russia speaks is that of power. Thereby, showing force, resilience and thoroughness is the only way to deter and discourage Russia. Moreover, this working theory has also been confirmed after Turkey downed a Russian jet in November 2015, and Putin did nothing, militarily against Ankara, except condemning, threatening and implementing some economic sanctions that, given the Russian-Turkish financial relation, had a costly boomerang effect on Moscow.

 

A serious conversation to have

Trump is going for a cold but realistic policy over NATO, where the American interest does come first, but in this situation, it should be accounted as a “tough love” that will eventually boost the organization’s power, not diminish it. Or as Newt Gingrich, an informal security adviser for Trump, puts it: “It’s not just important from a financial stance; they can’t do anything militarily […] You have all these people not paying their fair-share, they can’t militarily function; so they’re a source of weakness, not a source of strength[4].” The poor funding is a liability for the Alliance, now this is nothing new but it’s not something that was discussed openly until now.

Gingrich also thinks that Trump will have a “very serious conversation about us being the people who defend people who won’t defend themselves[5].”

 

Still not convinced? Two words: Mattis and Tillerson

Retired General “Mad Dog” Mattis, served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Transformation, led the US Marines into the Iraqi war and commanded CENTCOM, through many other battlefield and professional accomplishments. The other, Rex Tillerson is a controversial figure, given his career as Exxon Mobil’s CEO and his close ties with Russian. While his accomplishments show an outstanding life-long hands-on experience in international affairs, as diplomacy, negotiation and strategy, many feared that his views on Russia would be too friendly.

“Mad Dog” Mattis became Secretary of the Department of Defense, being the first executive order Trump signed after he was inaugurated as President; the retired general received a wavier from Congress. Tillerson is the proposal for Secretary of State and he is expected to assume the position as soon as possible; Congress has signaled that it will green-light the proposal. But let’s see their views on these topics. First Rex Tillerson; he stated that NATO’s mutual defense commitment, Article 5, is inviolable. He then continued to talks in regards to Russia’s annexation of Crimea:

Speaker: YOU MENTIONED IN YOUR STATEMENT ABOUT THE INVASION BY RUSSIA OF CRIMEA, DOES RUSSIA IN YOUR VIEW HAVE A LEGAL CLAIM TO CRIMEA? (1:09:30)

Rex: NO, SIR. THAT WAS A TAKING OF TERRITORY THAT WAS NOT THEIRS.

Senator Mendez: >> DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THE INTERNATIONAL ORDER INCLUDES RESPECTING THE TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY OF SOVEREIGN COUNTRIES IN THE VIABILITY OF THEIR BORDERS.

Rex: YES, SIR.

Senator Mendez: DID RUSSIA VIOLATE THIS ORDER WHEN IT FORCEFULLY ANNEXED CRIMEA AND INVADE UKRAINE?

Rex: YES, SIR.

Senator Mendez: DID RUSSIA’S CONTINUING OCCUPATION OF FOREIGN COUNTRIES VIOLATE INTERNATIONAL LAWS AND NORMS?

Senator Mendez: THE ANNEXATION OF CRIMEA.

Rex: YES, SIR.

Senator Mendez: EASTERN UKRAINE, GEORGIA, JUST TO MENTION A FEW?

Rex: YES, SIR.

Senator Mendez: DOES RUSSIA AND SYRIA’S TARGETED CAMPAIGN ON ALEPPO VIOLATE THE INTERNATIONAL ORDER?

Rex: YES. THAT’S NOT ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR.

Rex Tillerson was then ask how would he have dealt with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Be advised, it’s so hawkish, it’s politically incorrect!

Speaker: WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE AFTER WE WERE SURPRISED BY WHAT THEY DID IN TAKING OVER CRIMEA, WHAT SHOULD THE U.S. LEADERSHIP HAVE DONE IN RESPONSE TO THAT THAT WE DIDN’T DO?

Rex: I WOULD HAVE RECOMMENDED THAT UKRAINE TAKE ALL OF ITS MILITARY ASSETS AVAILABLE, PUT THEM ON THE EASTERN BORDER, PROVIDE ASSETS WITH DEFENSIVE WEAPONS THAT ARE NECESSARY JUST TO DEFEND THEMSELVES, ANNOUNCE THAT THE U.S. IS GOING TO PROVIDE THEM INTELLIGENCE AND THAT EITHER NATO OR U.S. WILL PROVIDE AIR SURVEILLANCE OVER THE BORDER TO MONITOR MOVEMENTS.

Speaker: YOUR RECOMMENDATION IS A MORE ROBUST SUPPLY OF MILITARY?

Rex: YES, SIR. I THINK WHAT RUSSIAN LEADERSHIP WOULD HAVE UNDERSTOOD IS A POWERFUL RESPONSE THAT INDICATED, YES, YOU TOOK CRIMEA, BUT THIS STOPS HERE.

Speaker: OUR NATO PARTNERS, PARTICULARLY IN THE BALTICS AND POLAND, ARE VERY CONCERNED ABOUT RUSSIAN AGGRESSION. NATO HAS DEPLOYED TROOPS IN ORDER TO SHOW RUSSIA THAT ARTICLE FIVE MEANS SOMETHING. I TAKE IT YOU SUPPORT THAT TYPE OF ACTION.

Rex: I DO. THAT’S THE TYPE OF RESPONSE RUSSIA EXPECTS. IF RUSSIA ACTS WITH FORCE, TAKING OF CRIMEA WAS AN ACT OF FORCE. IT INDICATES TO RUSSIA THERE WILL BE NO MORE TAKING OF TERRITORY.

More at Rex Tillerson’s Senate hearing on C-SPAN.

Exactly what I was stating about Russia being only capable on understanding force and power. But than again, this issue is mostly approached through an utmost subjective manner from Donald Trump’s critics. Yesterday’s pacifists are today’s warriors. Those who years ago named you a “Russophobe” or deemed you as being warmonger if you demanded a NATO build-up on the eastern flank, are now those who false-name the President as being a “Russian stooge”. DoD Secretary Mattis is known for being an iron hawk, a defense genius and one of greatest military men from modern history; widely acclaimed by soldiers and staff, and civilians alike. “Mad Dog” Mattis named Russia as being the main threat for the US, emphasized that Putin is trying to break NATO and assured that he is committed to the European Reassurance Imitative that boosted US personnel and equipment in Eastern European countries, as Poland, Romania, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.But of course these though stances on Russia are not so spread through the news, because it destroys the media’s “Trump is a Russian stooge” rhetoric.

 

Trump and Eastern Europe: The Hidden Speech for the Poles

Donald Trump also held an, not so known, rally for Polish Americans in Chicago, where Rudy Giuliani spoke as well. There, some things were said that should have fully canceled any fears regarding commitment with NATO, sadly, it was no so publicized. I cannot quote enough from it, so I will post it here, to be fully enjoyed. 

Poland will have once again, a totally reliable ally in the United States”, Rudy Giuliani opened, then continued to condemn Hillary’s reset relationship with Russia, “because resetting that relationship, she gave up, what my President’s dream, gave up nuclear defense to Poland and the Czech Republic. She got no guarantees of non-aggression.” Giuliani also confirmed my interpretation of the Reagan inspired “Peace through strength” saying that “Yes, Donald Trump will negotiate with Russia, but it will do so from a military strong position to get good deals.”, then, the ex-NYC mayor mentioned Ronald Reagan’s doctrine. When he enter the stage, Donald Trump praised the country and began assuring the Poles:

So Poland is one of the only five NATO nations, countries, that’s actually paying 2 percent of GDP to provide for their defense, which is very interesting, because I — I’ve been talking about it. You know, so many of them are delinquent. They’re in default, essentially, but they’re delinquent. Poland is up to date. And what happened, as soon as I walked in, the whole group said, “We’re up to date, we’re up to date.” They were very proud of it. That’s the Polish people. So we want NATO to be strong, which means we want more countries to follow the example of Poland. If every country in NATO made the same contributions as Poland, all of our allies would be more secure. And people would feel better, even better, about NATO. NATO is very important, but they’d feel better about it.  We’ll work with Poland on strengthening NATO when I am President. We will strengthen NATO, and we’re going to bring NATO and get NATO involved with terrorism. As you remember, six or seven months ago when I was asked by a reporter about, what do I think about NATO, I said it’s obsolete because it doesn’t cover terror. And there was a big scream. “Oh, Trump is saying it’s obsolete.” Then about three days later, they’re saying, “You know, he’s right. It’s obsolete. It doesn’t cover terror. This is a new threat.”

I think this whole part would have closed the whole “Trump and NATO chapter” but it barely got coverage from the media. This shouldn’t have even stayed as a topic. He states it clear that he wants a strong NATO, which means countries to contribute more and to strengthen the Alliance. There is a reasons why Eastern Europeans generally like Trump, they believe he is the only candidate that wouldn’t abandon them; they’re done buying anymore of Obama’s dramatic speeches and Biden’s sterile visits to Kiev. Eastern Europeans, as oppose to “experts” in France or Germany, actually understand how the Kremlin works and moves, that’s why Trump’s policy would work, as Reagan’s did, and soft power approaches don’t – it actually makes you look terribly weak.

Just a day before the inauguration, a quick chit-chat was also held between the Romanian PM, Romania’s Speaker for the Deputy Chamber, and Trump, during a circumstantial occasion. The Romanian politicians expressed wishes to take the strategic partnership between Romanian and the US at a higher level. He replied: “We will make it happen! Romania is important for us!” Romania is due to hit 2% GDP for Defense this year. 

 

TRUMP: “There’s a good chance I won’t get along with Russia”

But how can one of the most influential figures in the new administration be so publicly aggressive on Russia, while Trump’s not? It’s called Detente. It’s a strategy that was heavily implemented during Richard Nixon’s time on the White House against China, speculating the Sino-Soviet split at that time, it involved a intense diplomatic channel with Beijing, openness in exchange of China renouncing its military aspirations. It is a process of opening up a strained relationship, that comes with a huge cost for the enemy. This strategy softened the impact of Communism spreading into Indochina after the US left the War in Vietnam. China’s developed a tempered tone and position, following the Kissinger-engineered detente, which heavily reduced the legitimacy of Bejing’s anti-Capitalist image in the Communist world. But China received in exchange, a vital needed opening and breakthrough in diplomacy after being isolated by the rift with Moscow (Sino-Soviet split).

Russia is too in a weak and weary position. It’s long promised military innovations fail to impress, its Armed Forces faced humiliation (fighters jets crashed in the Mediterranean, weary sole aircraft carrier performed badly) , its economy is collapsing, while Putin is still isolated with it comes to the Euro-Atlantic community. With a strong, superior position, the US can easily achieve major deals with Russia.

Ronald Reagan also had a similar approach. He was one of the most anti-Communist Presidents in US history, he showed an unprecedented toughness on the USSR, increased defense spending to a historically high and backed any anti-USSR actor, but he did maintain diplomatic channels open with USSR President Gorbachov – “Peace through strength” it was called. They also even met several times, when they drafted and signed treaties. After all, all of that aggressiveness shown, needs to have an objective. You’re building a strong stance to achieve something palpable. Which is to make your enemy do something he would not normally do (definition of power): sign a paper, withdraw from a country or reform its regime. All of these, and many more Gorbachov did: he signed START I, retreated from Afghanistan (where USSR’s enemy were armed and supported by the US) and committed his presidency to open the USSR to the world. I understand that these are some arguments that can be comprehend mostly by individuals with above average knowledge in geopolitics, international relations and security studies, but in his first press conference after winning the election Trump translated his intentions over Russia so that even Dummies can understand:

Well, if — if Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia. Russia can help us fight ISIS, which, by the way, is, number one, tricky. I mean if you look, this administration created ISIS by leaving at the wrong time. The void was created, ISIS was formed.

If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That’s called an asset, not a liability.

Now, I don’t know that I’m gonna get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. But there’s a good chance I won’t. And if I don’t, do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Does anybody in this room really believe that? Give me a break.

But way before his speech, he did have an indirect first confrontation with Vladimir Putin over nukes. On 22nd of December 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for the country to reinforce its military nuclear potential and praised the army’s performance in its Syria campaign. In a speech that recapped military activities in 2016, Putin said the army’s preparedness has “considerably increased” and called for continued improvement that would ensure it can “neutralize any military threat“. We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and prospective missile defence systems,” the Kremlin strongman said.

Just hours later, Trump responded in tweet:The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” Also adding that “we will outlast them all” and that “let it be an arms race”. A day later, Putin responded by tempering down his tone trying to move the burden on Trump’s shoulders, saying: If someone is stimulating a nuclear arms race it’s not us. We don’t violate anything,” he said. “We are in line with our obligations as to the number of our warheads.” But of course Trump did not receive praise for showing toughness to Putin, he received a heavy backlash for being in favor modernizing nukes. Although, that is the main role of nuclear weapons: not to use them (MAD is always on the table) but to deter. The best weapons are those that you do not need to use.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I will quote a fragment from Trump’s speech at the inauguration: We will reinforce old alliances and build new ones. Meaning exactly what it sounds, reinforce NATO and other old alliances (as with Japan, South Korea) and craft new ones, necessary to combat radical Islamic terrorism in the Middle East. That though love approach on NATO is intended to force those free-raiders or, business opportunists with Russia, to commit to their 2% GDP for defense – as unanimously agreed at the 2014 Wales Summit. I consider that I have presented the necessary doctrine-wise, historical and factual arguments as well as expertise in order to reinstate that a “trumped” NATO will be more efficient, military and administrative-wise, but also a lot tougher on Russia, because the US is now committed to make nuclear threats, encourage military responses and engage in real clear diplomacy.


 

[1] Goldberg, Jeffrey. “The Obama Doctrine.” The Atlantic, April 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/.

[2] “Full Rush Transcript: Donald Trump, CNN Milwaukee Republican Presidential Town Hall.” Accessed November 12, 2016. http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/2016/03/29/full-rush-transcript-donald-trump-cnn-milwaukee-republican-presidential-town-hall/.

[3] ibidem

[4] 21, Reena Flores CBS News July, 2016, and 9:23 Am. “Newt Gingrich: NATO Countries ‘ought to Worry’ about U.S. Commitment.” Accessed November 12, 2016. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/newt-gingrich-trump-would-reconsider-his-obligation-to-nato/.

[5] ibidem

*Many links of sources are included in the text through hyperlinks.

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