Trump has Europe concerned

Harsha Kakar
The battle for the US Presidency is well under way. Donald Trump has almost got the Republican nomination under his belt. However, his legal troubles are far from over.His first amongst four trials is scheduled to commence in end March, which could impact his political future. The world, especially Europe, is following Trump’s legal wranglings, aware that his re-emergence in the White House could spell a change in ties. Trump’s political slogan continues to be to ‘make America great again.’
In his first tenure Trump met Kim Jong Un, the North Korean ruler, a visit which was a flop, other than being a photo-op. In Dec 2017,he ordered the shifting of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, angering Palestinians. He also unveiled his Middle East peace plan largely favouring Israel, which made no headway.
Trump had also demanded that South Korea pay USD 5 Billion annually, a figure five-times higher than the current, for hosting US troops on its soil. His relations with his European allies were frosty. Trump is known for his limited attention span, which impact his interactions.
However, what was most prominent in his first tenure were his demands that NATO allies increase their defence spending. NATO’s European members were hesitant to enhance their defence expenditure to the listed2% of their GDP, based on limited threat and guarantee of US military support, whereas Trump was demanding 4%. In Jul 2018 at the end of the first day of NATO’s summit, Trump tweeted, ‘The US is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025.’
He further displayed his contempt by adding, ‘What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?’ His frosty ties with Germany’s Angela Merkel were well known, mainly because Germany obtained most of its gas from Russia. NATO leaders countered his adverse comments.
In Aug 2020, Trump proudly announced, ‘Our NATO partners, as an example, were very far behind in their defence payments, but at my strong urging, they agreed to pay USD 130 billion more a year.’ Increased defence spending by NATO members largely benefits US armament companies.
In the current round of campaigning, Trump again displayed his disdain for NATO members on two grounds. Firstly, is the difference on what NATO members and the US are spending on Ukraine. He mentioned, ‘European countries are paying a small fraction of what we are for the disaster in Ukraine. There is probably a USD 150 Billion difference.’ Figures indicate that currently Europe’s combined spending on Ukraine is far higher than that of the US, after all Ukraine affects European security.
Secondly, he demanded that NATO members pay more for their own defence. Trump stated in a speech that if NATO members did not’pay (their) bills’ they would not have any protection and he would encourage Russia to ‘do whatever the hell they want.’The NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, responded by mentioning that 18 out of the 31 members of the military alliance are already meeting the 2% of GDP defence spending plan.The reality remains that NATO spending never increased due to Trump’s threats.
They rose because Russia invaded Ukraine and there was fear that Europe would be next. States bordering Ukraine are spending far more than others. Evidently, it is Russia which achieved what Trump or his predecessors could not.However, the Ukraine war benefitted the US as it impacted Russian military power.
Earlier Trump was also critical of US funding for Ukraine. Referring to a proposed USD 60 Billion aid he mentioned, ‘Why should you just hand it over to them. Do it as a form of a loan.’ In fact, most of the military aid earmarked for Ukraine is paid to US defence industries. Almost 70-80% of the funds is spent within the US. Many defence manufacturers have enhanced production to meet Ukrainian demands, thereby increasing employment, benefitting the US economy.
Earlier Trump had stated that he could end the war within 24 hours, once he is President. He mentioned, ‘They both have weaknesses and they both have strengths and within 24 hours that war will be settled, that war will be over.’Trump has termed Zelensky, the Ukrainian president,as ‘the greatest salesman in history.’
Zelensky responded by stating, ‘Donald Trump, I invite you to Ukraine, to Kyiv. If you can stop the war during 24 hours, I think it will be enough to come.’ He added, ‘Maybe Donald Trump really has some idea, a real idea, and he can share it with me.’ Zelensky is aware that the arrival of Trump to the White House could impact US support.Without it, Ukraine would be compelled to discuss peace.
Putin too joined the game and is playing to American sentiments. He stated in an interview that he prefers Biden to Trump as Biden is a ‘more experienced person, he is predictable, he is a politician of the old formation.’ For American citizens, these statements give a boost to Trump’s campaign, especially since Putin is considered untrustworthy. Trump terming the remark as a compliment, stated, ‘Putin is not a fan of mine actually.’
NATO members, irked by Trumps comments, feel he is ungrateful for the assistance provided by them during the prolonged Afghan war. This was the first time in history that Article 5 of the treaty was imposed andall members of NATOcontributed by joining the US effort in some form or the other. However, threats by Trump have raised concerns within the grouping. Other US Presidents, including George Bush and Obama, have raised similar concerns, but were never as blunt and threatening.
The EU, comprising of 27 countries (of which 22 are members of NATO) is increasing its defence spending to enhance protection of the continent. Of course, there would be linkages between them and NATO.
Trump’s first tenure was a wakeup call for NATO. His second will imply greater pressure on the organization with increased demands, especially when it comes to boosting military spending and capabilities. Will NATO remain a secure and dependable organization or would EU assume a greater role remains to be seen.
The author is Major General (Retd)