Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Why Does Trump Hate NATO?

Trump's desire to pull out of NATO is in the news again. Trump has very few real beliefs, but trashing NATO is perhaps just behind his racism/xenophobia and his mercantilism/corruption for most consistent beliefs/stances.  Why?

First, we can consult the Trump Rules and focus on projection, numbers, and, yes, entropy.
  • Trump has a hard time valuing reciprocity, NATO' essence via the promise of an attack upon one is an attack upon all, because he projects onto everyone else how we views things.  That other countries must be ripping the US off and trying to get by via doing less precisely because that is his life-long modus operandi.  He just does not get the security guarantee because he can't see anyone else keeping it since he never keeps his word.  So, NATO can't mean as much to Trump as it means to damn near every major politician in the US and Europe for 7- years (De Gaulle pulled out of the operational command, but he did not pull out of NATO).
  • Trump can't get any numbers right, so, of course, he does not understand that the 2% guideline--that members of NATO should contribute at least 2% of their GDP to defense--is not some kind of payment to the US for the costs of defending Europe.  Nor can he understand that not everything the US spends is on European defense.  Nor that 2% is a dubious measure.
  • Trump does not value order.  He likes chaos in his own team, fostering rivalry among his advisers.  He does not value European order either, seeing the allies as competitors.  It may not always be deliberate, but it is part of a basic tendency--to dismiss institutions and norms and processses.  Maybe sometimes we overvalue such stuff, but avoiding major war in Europe and fostering prosperity has seemed like a pretty good deal for 70 plus years.
Second, we don't have to invoke Trump as puppet to get here, but we can focus on those have gathered around him and those he is playing to.  The Steve Bannons, Steve Millers and other awful Steve's (sorry) of the Alt-Right are contemptuous of European institutions, such as the EU, and of the international order (liberal or not).  NATO is a key piece of the international order the US helped to build, and these Alt Right folks want to tear down this order.  Hating it is a fringe issue (see this survey of public support for NATO).  One of the key Trump attributes that we underestimated two years ago was his ability to find arsonists dedicated to burning down pretty much every institution.  The shutdown is popular among these folks because they get to prevent institutions from operating.  Even if Trump didn't care about NATO, those around him want to see it gone.  Again, no need to consider the Putin factor.

Third, well, we could consider the Putin factor.  Not so much that Putin is causing Trump to behave this way, but that Trump was an attractive candidate to the Russians both because he was a force for disorder and he was hostile to NATO.  One of the basics of Russian foreign policy under Putin has been the desire to break NATO.  No need to invade the Baltics to test NATO if the arsonist in the White House is trying to burn it down.

Could the US survive without NATO?  Sure, its nuclear weapons mean that only terrorists will directly attack the US.  But will the US thrive without it?  No.  Tensions, crises, and friction in Europe will come home to roost.  Consider how often the US has been involved in the Mideast, which is actually at best the third most important region in the world for the US in terms of trade, investment, and all the rest.  Europe remains important even as China replaces it as the second heavyweight in International Relations.  NATO has been a good idea for more than 70 years because prevention is, indeed, cheaper than the cure.  We have avoided a third World War, and the stability that NATO has brought to Europe is a significant part of that. IR scholars disagree a lot, but they definitely agree on NATO

As we enter an age of multipolarity where things become less certain and there is more room for misperception that can lead to war, it makes even less sense now to give up on a key source of certainty and stability.  But then again, everything Trump touches turns to shit.  Will the Republican Party let Trump sell off one of the most important assets of US national security?  Probably.

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