“There is a profound misunderstanding among Donald Trump of what NATO is” – L’Express

There is a profound misunderstanding among Donald Trump of what

At the opening of the annual Munich Security Conference on February 16, Donald Trump’s words are on everyone’s minds. A few days ago, the ultra-favorite in the Republican primary called into question the principle of solidarity within NATO. Trump suggests that under his presidency he will let Russia attack European countries that do not spend 2% of their GDP on defense. “Donald Trump’s words force Europeans to be serious about defense issues, in order to be able to ensure it themselves,” warns Camille Grand, former deputy secretary general of the Alliance, now a researcher at the European Council for International Relations (ECFR).

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L’Express: After Donald Trump’s thunderous remarks on NATO this weekend, what to expect at the Munich conference?

Camille Grand: Concerning the ex-president’s comments, two parallel wishes will be clearly expressed: that of the Europeans and that of the Biden administration. This is about reaffirming the importance and solidity of NATO in the defense of the European continent. Then, the question of aid to Ukraine should occupy a central place in the discussions, in particular with the Republican elected representatives of the American Congress who are making the trip. This conference is often indicative of the spirit of the times, and in this year which marks the 75th anniversary of NATO and will be punctuated by the European elections and the American presidential election, it is important that the transatlantic community can say things to each other, publicly and privately.

Do Donald Trump’s statements undermine the credibility of the Atlantic Alliance?

Although these comments were made during a campaign rally, and can undoubtedly be nuanced, in my opinion they signal two problematic elements. First of all, they reveal a deep misunderstanding on the part of Donald Trump of what NATO is and what alliances in general are. It is not a transactional system where you pay to be defended, as he describes it, but a shared responsibility for defense, which goes much further. Then, the fact that he encourages Vladimir Putin to do what he wants once again confirms his total lack of interest in European allies and a form of fascination for authoritarian leaders.

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In the short term, however, this has no effect on NATO. Donald Trump would already have to be elected, then he would have to implement the policies he outlined in this speech – which, in both cases, is not certain. On the other hand, these comments raise long-term questions in the event of his re-election: they remind us of his distrust of NATO and Europeans in general. Ultimately this could potentially weaken the transatlantic relationship. Especially since, unlike his first term, Trump has the firm intention of surrounding himself with people who share his vision of the world, and no longer with more traditional Republicans, who tempered him.

Will Putin be tempted to test the solidity of the Atlantic Alliance if Donald Trump is elected?

In the event of a new US administration following the election, I am certain he will do so. This does not mean that Putin will start a world war, but that he will try, through hybrid or limited actions, to test the reactions of the United States and NATO. Concretely, this can involve cyberattacks or disinformation campaigns against European countries, as we are already seeing currently, or through more threatening maneuvers, such as massing troops along the border of an ally of the European Union. ‘NATO. The aim, for Russia, will be to determine whether the declarations or actions taken in return are likely to dissuade it from any escalation. In this context, having a president in the White House who is, at minimum, unpredictable, is very problematic, since the strength of an alliance rests on its stability.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump before their first bilateral meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018

© / afp.com/Brendan Smialowski

Is Europe able to face an armed conflict with Russia without the support of the United States?

It’s not impossible, but it would be complicated. Currently, the NATO forces present in Europe are made up of more than 90% European forces. This concerns troops and their equipment, such as tanks and planes. However, the United States provides “high-end” capabilities, which the Europeans do not have, or only in limited quantities. This concerns, for example, means of intelligence, strategic transport, or deep strikes. In these key areas, American capabilities are needed.

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In the event of a conflict involving NATO allies, the United States would be able to quickly deploy a very substantial volume of forces. Finally, there is also the complex question of the American nuclear umbrella, which is a fundamental element of NATO’s dissuasive posture. However, in this area, the British and French do not have the capacity to take the place of the United States in the same terms. Being able to partially replace American capabilities therefore constitutes a major challenge for the Europeans, and we are not there yet.

So how to prepare?

This requires two things. First, Europeans must invest quickly and vigorously in their defense, to make up for the deficits in our capabilities which are traditionally provided by the United States. Then, this requires an increase in the power of European forces, particularly in volume. This does not necessarily imply an arms race; on the other hand, it is necessary, at a minimum, that the countries of the Old Continent maintain this famous objective of 2% of their GDP devoted to defense over the long term. In addition, we must also mobilize the EU toolbox to rebuild a defense industry capable of meeting our needs.

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Efforts are therefore necessary, but it is not insurmountable. Today’s Russia is not the USSR of the Cold War whose forces had, thanks to the Warsaw Pact, tens of thousands of tanks deployed in Central Europe, overabundant troops, and several thousand weapons. tactical nuclear weapons. Russian capabilities are no longer as vast and, moreover, it will take Moscow several years to rebuild the forces it lost in Ukraine. It is therefore within the reach of Europeans to show that they are capable of reacting to any eventuality, and of making the necessary efforts.

French diplomacy affirmed on February 12 that Europe needed a “second life insurance” in terms of defense. Can Donald Trump’s words move the needle regarding the creation of a hypothetical European army?

Donald Trump’s words force Europeans to be serious about defense issues in order to be able to ensure it themselves. The question is what is the best institutional framework for this. It is not necessarily a question of moving towards a continental army distinct from NATO. For my part, I think that the Atlantic Alliance, as a structure, is not going to disappear. The Europeans would benefit from using his command capabilities. For seventy-five years, irreplaceable experience and know-how have been acquired on all levels. Basically, the question posed to Europeans – Trump being only an accelerator – is: how can we defend ourselves with less American assistance, or even none at all?

With or without Trump, this question would have arisen. We know that the United States is engaged in competition with China in the Indo-Pacific theater, and that this mobilizes a lot of its resources. We also see that the issues in the Middle East continue to monopolize the attention of their forces. Finally, we note that domestic political debates in the United States are polarized and that decisions can be blocked in Congress, such as those on support for Ukraine. All this forces Europeans to do something that they have not allowed themselves to do for three quarters of a century: to think about their real autonomy in matters of defense and to define what must be preserved at all costs within the Transatlantic Alliance.

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Will the question of sharing French nuclear weapons with other European countries, as the ultimate guarantee of security, arise as doubts grow about the reliability of the American commitment? ?

If the term “nuclear sharing” is not part of the French nuclear lexicon and doctrine, it is clear that a certain number of countries in Europe are wondering about alternatives or complements to American deterrence, which could be weakened. by decisions of Donald Trump. We are at the beginning of a reflection but France’s role in nuclear deterrence in Europe could be strengthened.

France has already expressed, through the President of the Republic, the fact that our vital interests have a “European dimension”, and that we are ready for a conversation with Europeans on this subject. Therefore, many things are possible, such as associating the allies more clearly with our deterrence, or at least, explaining to them more clearly what the presidential remarks suggest. This can lead to a clarification, which does not necessarily involve a profound change in French doctrine. This remains built around the vital interests of our country and the autonomy of decision of the President of the Republic.