Just days before his inauguration, US president elect Donald Trump has kicked up a storm in Europe with remarks about NATO and the EU made in a joint interview with The Times and the German newspaper Bild. Mr. Trump said NATO had become “obsolete” and the European Union was “a vehicle for Germany” predicting that more EU member states would vote to leave the bloc as Britain did last June. I spoke to Petr Kratochvíl, head of the Institute of International Relations in Prague for his take on the US president elect’s words.
“Well, we should really differentiate between Trump’s critique of the European Union and his critique of NATO, because regarding the EU he clearly does not really understand what the EU is, what it stands for and why we should have it at all. So his critique here is much more radical and indeed he seems to be expecting a quick collapse of the organization and it seems that he does not really care at all. Whereas on NATO he is clearly more ambivalent because he said that NATO is obsolete, but also that NATO is important for him. So he seems to have reduced the question of sanctioning to a fair share of costs between the allies and if military spending were increased that would be enough for him. But of course, what is most alarming here is that, when speaking about NATO, he does not start with the basics, that is by saying that NATO is relevant for both Trans-Atlantic and European security. It is as if this does not appear on Trump’s mental map at all.”
There is obviously a big difference between criticizing members for not pulling their weight –which seems legitimate- and saying that NATO is obsolete….
“Exactly, but with Trump, he is very often ambiguous and his statements are very often contradictory, so we have to wait for his actions. I think the first indication of things to come will be this anticipated “grand bargain” with Russia – his claim that he would be willing to exchange a deal reducing nuclear arms on both sides in exchange for lifting sanctions. Now, if that happens, and if it is a real “grand bargain”, including other issues, that would really be worrying for European NATO member states. Because Ukraine is not even mentioned in this bargain and, if it happens, then many NATO states will be shaken to the core because what guarantee do they have it could not happen to a NATO member state in Eastern Europe as well?”
If we turn to what he says about the EU – and clearly he thinks the EU will fall apart – is he the kind of leader who would prefer to deal individually with EU member states and –given what is happening in the world today –does the US not need a strong partner in Europe?
“I would say that in this respect Donald Trump is quite consistent. He has been critical of Europe’s and Germany’s immigration policies for a long time, he has always seen Germany, and in particular Angela Merkel as a strong ally of President Obama and this is just a continuation of that critique, and I believe it is also the reason why he claims that the EU is a mere tool for German interests. So, yes, he does not really understand the EU, but I would really wait for his actions, because I believe that as usual with Donald Trump much of this is based on an emotional reaction, on instinctive, intuitive decisions that might change overnight once again.”
“I believe it will have a consolidating effect- especially if there is this “grand bargain” with Russia - then many EU member states such as Poland or the Baltic countries who in the past always relied primarily on the United States, will have to reconsider and invest more into EU related security structures. So I believe that at least in the security area Trump’s presidency will consolidate the European Union.”