WASHINGTON: With just 10 days before Donald Trump’s inauguration, our European allies appear to have gotten over the initial shock of his election and moved to a wait-and-see mode. They’ll judge him by his actions in office, not by his mixed messages on the campaign trail.
“What I detect from my colleagues within NATO is a readiness to wait and see how the administration executes policy,” said Sir Adrian Bradshaw, the British general who’s deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. “We’ve heard quite a lot of rhetoric, which is election rhetoric, but we’ve also heard Mr. Trump say ‘I’m for NATO.'”
General Bradshaw, with typically British delicacy, did not mention Trump’s much-cited comments that he might not come to an allies’ defense, as required by Article 5 of the NATO charter, if the country in question doesn’t “pay their bills.” But Bradshaw did tell the Council on Foreign Relations this morning that “the degree to which people are paying for…collective defense is a perfectly legitimate issue to look at” — and when Trump does look into it, he might be pleasantly surprised.
“We’ve had indications that Mr. Trump would look very carefully at the degree to which NATO nations are paying their way, and the reality is that in 2016, collectively, NATO increased its defense spending for the first time since 2010,” Bradshaw said. Five of NATO’s 28 members — the US, UK, Poland, Estonia, and Greece — have now met the alliance target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense. (US spending is about 3.3 percent). Other nations are well on their way, despite the economic malaise permeating Europe. “My prediction,” Bradshaw said, “would be that we will see increased spending, notwithstanding the very considerable challenge that poses to nations that are undergoing their own austerity programs.”
Another reassuring sign for the relationship is Trump’s nomination of retired Marine general James Mattis to be his Secretary of Defense. “I know Gen. Mattis very well. I have enormous respect for his professional ability and for him as a person,” said Bradshaw. “An incoming administration could do a lot worse than to listen very carefully to his advice.”
Does Trump’s nomination of three retired generals for key posts undermine civilian control of the military? “I think it would be a problem if things moved too far that way,” Bradshaw said, “but generals who’ve done stuff, like Gen. Mattis, know what a desperate business war is and will do their damnedest to avoid it.”
Bradshaw is far from the only senior European to praise Mattis. Mattis is also far from the only senior American whose selection to serve the Trump administration appears to have reassured the Europeans:
- Just this week, Bradshaw’s American counterpart, the deputy chief of US European Command deputy, celebrated US combat forces flowing into Europe through the German port of Bremerhaven. “The deployment of this 4,000-person, battle-ready Armored Brigade Combat Team,” said Lt. Gen. Tim Ray, “is just one aspect of the United States’ pledge to demonstrate our rock-solid commitment to Europe.”
- In December, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain and his protégé Sen. Lindsey Graham — both frequent critics of Trump’s — visited NATO’s frontline members, the Baltic States. There McCain declared that “the best way to prevent Russian misbehavior (is) having a credible, strong military and a strong NATO alliance.”
- In November, Trump ally Sen. Tom Cotton said “the best way to deter (war) is to be iron-clad in our support of our NATO allies,” adding that “Article 5 is a treaty commitment” — and thus inviolable — but “the 2 percent defense spend is a political commitment. There’s a difference.”
“The United States of America is the largest contributor to NATO, its most powerful nation in NATO, and it has the bulk of strategic deterrent (i.e. nukes),” Bradshaw said. “The United States’ contribution is absolutely fundamental — and I don’t think that anybody in NATO really doubts it will continue to be so.
“We’re looking forward to seeing how the new relationship develops,” Gen. Bradshaw said. “Mr. Trump will be President of the United States. He’ll be commander in chief of US forces, and he’s going to be a hugely important figure in NATO” (i.e., whether he wants to be or not). “We are looking forward to Mr. Trump playing a very significant role in an alliance which is hugely important to all of us, not least the United States.”
What about Britain’s own commitment to Europe, given its Brexit referendum vote to quit the European Union? Bradshaw responded with a ringing statement of the importance of the NATO treaty.
“I live and work in Europe. (NATO HQ is in Brussels). I’ve got many friends in Belgium and more widely in Europe, who are very, very disappointed in the Brexit vote, understandably,” said Bradshaw. “What I say to them is, we are still wholly, absolutely committed to Europe, in many ways.”
In particular, “as a member of NATO, we have signed up to Article 5 of the Washington treaty,” Bradshaw said. “Our sons and daughters would be committed to the defense of a NATO nation if it came under threat, if we faced a situation of war. I can’t think of a more fundamental commitment than that.”