Nato Trembles, Clings to the Hope That Trump Is Not Re-Elected

At Jens Stoltenberg er generalsekretær i NATO, må ikke stå veien for en helt nødvendig diskusjon om en forsvarsallianse i dyp krise, skriver Arne O. Holm i dagens fredagskommentar. (Foto: NATO)
French President Emmanuel Macron launches a fierce attack on NATO’s ability to defend Europe. As expected, both Jens Stoltenberg and Angela Merkel object. The problem is just that their more optimistic analysis of the defense alliance rests on a dream that Donald Trump is not re-elected as US president.

However, if there is one thing the Norwegian Secretary-General of NATO cannot control, then that is the American electorate. One of the reasons why Trump was elected president was his clear message about a more isolationist and nationalistic USA. Polls one year prior to next year’s presidential election in the USA are no guarantee that voters will not do the same once again.

Void of any content

If Donald Trump were to remain in office, both Stoltenberg’s and Merkel’s verbal defense in favor of NATO is drained for much of its substantial content.

In a remarkable, yet not quite unexpected interview with The Economist, the French president challenges the core of NATO’s defense strategy.

After describing the alliance as braindead, he also calls the value of its article 5 into question; the article stating that an attack on one member country is to be considered an attack on the entire alliance.

If Donald Trump were to remain in office, both Stoltenberg’s and Merkel’s verbal defense in favor of NATO is drained for much of its substantial content.

This represents the core of Norway’s defense strategy; NATO coming to assistance if the country were to be attacked for instance by Russia in the north. Today, there is not one single chief in the Armed Forces who believes we can resist such an attack without outside help from our allies.

Turns its back on Europe

Nevertheless, one should also add that there are no leading defense politicians who believe that such an attack will actually occur, though the entire Trans-Atlantic defense strategy builds on such an opportunity. That is why American troops are deployed on Norwegian territory, and that is why NATO’s exercises take place in Northern Norway.

And then French President Emmanuel Macron, in no uncertain terms, points to an American president who is completely ignoring Europe’s needs. He describes an American foreign and security policy that does not play along with the rest of NATO, one that withdraws from Syria without warning its allies, one that lets Turkey – a NATO member – attack Syria without coordinating it with the rest of the alliance.

- The USA turns its back on the European project, Macron says in the interview.

He is, by and large, completely right.

Emmanuel Macron, presidenten i et av NATOs sterkeste medlemsland, kaller organisasjonen for hjernedød. Her er den franske presidenten fotografert sammen med USAs visepresident Mike Pence. (Foto: US State Department)

And he could have pulled his reasoning even further. Since his assuming power, Donald Trump has attacked both NATO and the EU. He refers to the EU as an enemy, while repeatedly threatening to withdraw his financial support of the NATO alliance.

The discussion is inevitable

The fact that he is at the same time leading a dialogue with Russian president Vladimir Putin, completely outside the NATO’s control, does not contribute to the situation.

Macron wants, in brief, to strengthen a European defense on the side of NATO, as well as a changed approach towards Russia.

The realism of Emmanuel Macron’s wish about a new orientation is limited, though he has put into words a long-lasting internal conflict in NATO. The fact that he has pinpointed it does not mean that it can be stopped.

Even though Angela Merkel profusely objects, she has previously asked some of the very same questions about NATO’s relationship with the USA.

NATO’s standing united is currently more wishful thinking than a reality.

Wishful thinking

Norwegian politicians are hesitant to even get near a discussion like this. Our very own Foreign Minister, Ine Eriksen Søreide, responds to France by emphasizing how important NATO is for Norway and that the alliance must be united.

She is right about her first point.

Her last point, about the alliance having to stand united, is currently more wishful thinking than a reality.

And it is a wish based on Donald Trump being replaced by an American president with a more rational understanding of the world. A defense alliance resting on a dream about Trump being ousted from the White House is an alliance built on sand.

The fact that Norway currently has the Secretary-General of NATO should not get in the way of the need for an open debate about NATO’s being in a deep crisis.


This op-ed was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.



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