segunda-feira, 8 de agosto de 2016
President Trump and the future of the West
President Trump and the future of the West
If the Republican wins November’s election, what happens to US relations with its traditional allies?
8/8/16, 5:30 AM CET
It was a strange day for Estonia when the tiny Baltic nation became the focus of intense debate in the U.S. presidential campaign.
At issue: Would the United States honor its NATO obligation to defend Estonia in the event of an attack by Russia? Donald Trump, who has repeatedly criticized small NATO members for “taking advantage” of the United States, hedged his answer. “Have they fulfilled their obligations to us?” he told the New York Times. “If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”
Hours later, Trump backer Newt Gingrich doubled down on the Republican candidate’s skepticism toward NATO duties, saying: “Estonia is in the suburbs of [the Russian city of] St. Petersburg … I’m not sure I would risk nuclear war over the suburbs of St. Petersburg.”
For Estonians, and all other NATO members in the region, that was a chilling message. “All of a sudden the issue closest to our skin — the defense of Estonia, of all things — becomes an issue in this campaign,” Jüri Luik, former Estonian ambassador to Russia, said. “It’s a totally unexpected development, and a gloomy situation for all of Eastern Europe.”
“NATO’s deterrent power depends in large part on the U.S. president’s position. If he is unsure … that weakens the deterrent immensely.”
End of the West?
Beyond regional security, the Estonian episode raised a bigger, more troubling question for Europeans watching the U.S. presidential campaign: If Trump wins, will he feel any obligation to uphold his country’s historical role as defender and guarantor of the West?
So far, the answer seems to be probably not.
Since the end of World War II, no other U.S. presidential nominee has questioned the country’s prerogatives as a global superpower so openly, or so insistently, or with so little regard for historical ties, as Trump.
Six months ago, European leaders felt free to dismiss his criticism of NATO, or insults to EU countries, as the ravings of a candidate who had no chance of winning the Republican party nomination, much less the presidency.
Not anymore. As Trump secured the Republican nomination, and his campaign barreled from one shock statement to another, he revealed details of a foreign policy agenda that was far more worrying for U.S. allies than anything he had said in the primary.
First there was his questioning of NATO, which he recently called “obsolete.” Dismissing the principle of automatic mutual aid, which underpins the alliance, Trump argued that small countries were “taking advantage” of the United States by not paying enough into the alliance’s coffers.
Countries like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania needed to pay in order to play, he said.
“At this stage, he’s [Trump] an inch away from saying ‘let’s drop the whole idea and abandon NATO,'” said an EU diplomat who asked not to be named. “I hardly dare to imagine what that world [without NATO] would resemble.”
The debate about burden-sharing inside of NATO is a mere footnote in Trump’s “America first” foreign policy doctrine. “Europeans need to understand that the responsibility of defending Western civilization will be theirs if Trump is elected,” said Nicholas Dungan, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
Behind it looms what several sources described as a deep-seated ambivalence toward the United States’ international commitments and a suspicious, hectoring attitude toward the rest of the West. According to Trump, Brussels is a “hellhole,” Germany is a “total mess” and France “just isn’t what it was.”
France, Belgium and Germany have all suffered terrorist attacks over the past year. But instead of offering sympathy to allied nations, Trump served up a ban on letting citizens of terror-struck countries into the U.S.
“The excesses make your stomach turn,” French President François Hollande told journalists this week, when asked to react to Trump’s recent statements.
For Russia, with love
In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, the Republican nominee called for “better relations” with Moscow, urging the United States to accept the Russian annexation of Crimea, which Washington and Brussels both consider a violation of international law.
He also denied that Russian-backed rebels or proxies were in Ukraine, despite ongoing fighting in the country’s Donbas region that has claimed hundreds of lives.
With minor variations, such statements echo the pro-Russian positions of the European far-right. On Russia, Trump lines up perfectly with Marine Le Pen, the head of France’s National Front; former UKIP leader Nigel Farage; Frauke Petry of Germany’s AfD; Beppe Grillo, leader of Italy’s 5Star movement, and other populist groups in Europe.
And in some ways, Trump has gone further in courting Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a quip that jolted European politicians, he told a rally that Russia should help to recover some 30,000 emails purportedly deleted from his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s personal accounts. Coming after reports that Russian state-backed hackers had broken into the Democratic National Committee’s email server, Trump’s comment came across as nothing less than an invitation to Russia to spy on the United States.
“If Donald Trump was to end up as President of the United States, I think we had better head for the bunkers,” tweeted Carl Bildt, Sweden’s outspoken former foreign minister.
Putin appeasement risk
Trump’s anti-West bent and praise for Putin is raising concerns about the independence of his campaign. Paul Manafort, his campaign manager, previously worked as a political consultant to the pro-Russian government of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
The role would have put him in direct contact with Putinists, and likely involved pitching the same lines about Crimea and Ukraine that Trump is now putting forth in interviews. While Trump was forced to admit, after an explicit denial from Putin, that he had ever met or even spoken to the Russian leader, his call on Russia to spy on Clinton implied a level of coziness that raised eyebrows among EU security analysts.
“If Trump is elected, not everything will fall apart from one day to the next, thank God,” said Camille Grand, head of the Foundation for Strategic Research, an independent think tank in France. “The real problem is what happens during the first crisis with Putin, under a president Trump?”
“Putin could be tempted to test [Trump’s] commitments on day one of his presidency. How would he react? Would Trump be able to confront Putin, or what he be advised against it?”
“What’s sure is that, if the United States gives up on being a last resort in Europe, we enter a different world.”
One last hope
In coming months, European elites will scrutinize U.S. election polls, hoping that Clinton maintains her current edge. Many officials remain attached to the idea that Trump cannot win, partly due to Clinton’s stronger appeal among minority and women voters; partly because the alternative is too difficult to comprehend.
But, as Britain’s surprise vote to leave the European Union showed, polls can be wrong.
If Trump does win in November, others cling to one final hope: that he was not being serious on the campaign trail.
“With Trump, we’re not dealing with policy; we’re not dealing with foreign policy,” said Dungan. “We don’t have to characterize what he says in such professional terms.”
For the rest of the West, that’s scant hope.