In Don­ald Trump’s Rise, Al­lies See New Amer­i­can Ap­proach


WASHINGTON — Alarmed by Don­ald J. Trump’s grip on the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, world lead­ers are wrestling with the pos­si­bil­ity that, even if he loses the gen­eral elec­tion, his as­cent re­flects a strain of Amer­i­can pub­lic opin­ion that could pro­foundly re­shape the way the United States ad­dresses se­cu­rity al­liances and trade. From Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul to the head­quar­ters of NATO in Brus­sels and the vul­ner­a­ble Baltic na­tions along Rus­sia’s west­ern bor­der, of­fi­cials and an­a­lysts said in in­ter­views that they saw the suc­cess of Mr. Trump’s “Amer­ica first” plat­form as a har­bin­ger of pres­sure for al­lies to pay up or make trade con­ces­sions in re­turn for mil­i­tary pro­tec­tion.

In many cap­i­tals, Mr. Trump’s for­mal and off-the-cuff for­eign pol­icy pro­pos­als — his threat to pull out of NATO; his mus­ings about re­mov­ing the United States’ nu­clear um­brella over Ja­pan and South Korea; his pledge to slap huge trade tar­iffs on China — are re­garded with a mix of alarm and con­fu­sion.

Of­fi­cials do not see Mr. Trump’s rise as merely an Amer­i­can ver­sion of the an­ti­im­mi­gra­tion and iso­la­tion­ist par­ties that have picked up sup­port across Europe. They are find­ing signs of tan­gi­ble po­lit­i­cal change in state­ments by Demo­cratic lead­ers, as well. Al­ready, Mr. Trump’s as­sertive po­si­tions about Amer­i­can in­ter­ests have led some of­fi­cials to look again at Pres­i­dent Obama’s re­cent cri­tique of Euro­pean and Per­sian Gulf al­lies as “free riders.” They have also helped shed light abroad on the do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal forces at play around Hil­lary Clin­ton’s de­ci­sion to re­nounce her sup­port for a new Asian trade deal.

Some are re­vis­it­ing the words of Robert M. Gates in his last weeks as de­fense sec­re­tary in 2011. Mr. Gates warned that a new gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans with no mem­ory of the Cold War would even­tu­ally ask whether NATO, the cen­tral in­sti­tu­tion of Euro­pean se­cu­rity, was an ar­ti­fact, like the sin­gle seg­ment of the Ber­lin Wall that re­mains stand­ing as a re­minder of the past. In Europe last month, Mr. Obama pressed al­lies to live up to com­mit­ments to spend 2 per­cent of their gross do­mes­tic prod­uct on de­fense, a bench­mark that few have hit.

“Some of the claims made dur­ing the cam­paign have been empty or just wrong,” said Peter West­ma­cott, a former Bri­tish am­bas­sador to the United States, where he was re­garded as one of the savvi­est an­a­lysts of Amer­i­can-Euro­pean re­la­tions. “NATO mem­bers need to re­flect on whether it’s right, or sus­tain­able, for the U.S. to pay over 70 per­cent of the bill for our col­lec­tive se­cu­rity, or how to en­sure we take care of the losers as well as the winners in global free trade,” he said.

Clearly, many Euro­pean pol­icy mak­ers were al­ready up­set with Mr. Obama’s re­luc­tance to in­ter­vene on their be­half in con­flicts where they have na­tional in­ter­ests, and with his de­mand that Euro­pean na­tions put what he called, in an in­ter­view with The At­lantic, more “skin in the game.”

Euro­peans cite the U.S. re­luc­tance to take the lead in oust­ing Col. Muam­mar el-Qaddafi from Libya, an oper­a­tion that re­vealed ma­jor flaws in NATO op­er­a­tions. And they are un­con­vinced by Mr. Obama’s in­sis­tence that he made the right de­ci­sion in back­ing away from the “red line” he had drawn over the use of chem­i­cal weapons by Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad of Syria.

“Over all, I would say there are too many signs of Amer­i­can re­trench­ment and re­treat,” said An­ders Fogh Rasmussen, a former prime min­is­ter of Den­mark who was NATO sec­re­tary gen­eral un­til 2014. Euro­peans, he said, would gen­er­ally pre­fer an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent “who will demon­strate de­ter­mined Amer­i­can lead­er­ship,” even as, to many an­a­lysts, Mr. Trump’s rise sug­gests pres­sure for the na­tion to turn in­ward.

The “Amer­ica first” term, em­braced by Mr. Trump in a re­cent in­ter­view with The New York Times, goes back to a move­ment led by Charles A. Lind­bergh in the 1930s to keep Amer­ica out of war in Europe. The Euro­pean re­ac­tion to the re­vival of that term has been so sharp that Amer­i­can mil­i­tary lead­ers, while re­luc­tant to get in­volved in the cam­paign, have tried to take on Mr. Trump’s ar­gu­ments.

Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, who just stepped down as the supreme al­lied com­man­der for Europe, wrote in The Washington Post this week that when he as­sumed his po­si­tion in 2013, he thought that ar­gu­ments about NATO’s util­ity were “without merit, and there was no need to en­gage.” Now, he said, without nam­ing Mr. Trump, he felt com­pelled “to ex­plain to my fel­low coun­try­men why the United States ab­so­lutely needs NATO — a NATO that is strong, re­silient and united.”

Five mem­bers of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made a sim­i­lar set of ar­gu­ments at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions in New York on Tues­day, also avoid­ing any men­tion of Trump’s name.

To many who live on Rus­sia’s raw bor­der, es­pe­cially in the Baltic na­tions, there is noth­ing more puz­zling than Mr. Trump’s re­luc­tance to crit­i­cize Pres­i­dent Vladimir V. Putin. He has of­ten spo­ken ad­mir­ingly of Mr. Putin, say­ing he re­spects his strength and views him as some­one with whom he can ne­go­ti­ate. To Euro­pean ears, that sounds as if Mr. Trump may be play­ing into Putin’s hands, open­ing a rift within NATO.

“Rus­sia’s en­thu­si­asm about Trump seems to be pred­i­cated on the as­sump­tion that he may ac­tu­ally with­draw forces from Europe,” said Matthew Ro­jan­sky, the di­rec­tor of the Ken­nan In­sti­tute. That is ex­actly the fear of oth­ers in a re­gion where NATO is the only bul­wark against Rus­sia and where some peo­ple doubt that an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent would re­ally com­mit forces to pro­tect them in times of con­flict.

Mr. Trump’s ar­gu­ment that Seoul and Tokyo, which host tens of thou­sands of Amer­i­can troops, need to pay more or see the troops leave be­wil­dered of­fi­cials in those coun­tries. Ja­pan pays roughly $2 bil­lion a year to­ward the troops’ hous­ing, and mil­i­tary lead­ers of­ten say it would be more costly for Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers to base those same troops in Guam or in the main­land U.S. More­over, those bases are crit­i­cal for daily in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing on China and North Korea; the United States also keeps an air­craft car­rier group in Ja­pan.

Amer­i­can mil­i­tary of­fi­cials and diplo­mats ar­gue that these “for­ward de­ployed” bases are crit­i­cal to main­tain­ing free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion and to de­ter­ring North Korea, in par­tic­u­lar. But Mr. Trump’s ar­gu­ment is that they are worth it only if they do not cost the U.S. a for­tune.

“I think the real sub­lim­i­nal mes­sage Trump is say­ing is this: The U.S. can af­ford to sur­vive and pros­per without any al­lies if it was forced to cut off all ties, but the con­verse isn’t true,” said Chung Min Lee, a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Yon­sei Univer­sity in Seoul.

In China, one of the most fre­quent tar­gets of Mr. Trump’s crit­i­cism, he is widely viewed as a prag­ma­tist who is less hawk­ish and less fo­cused on hu­man rights is­sues than Mrs. Clin­ton is. His pro­posal to im­pose high taxes on Chi­nese goods re­ceives lit­tle at­ten­tion there, and his talk of China’s “rap­ing” the U.S. in un­fair trade deals has been met with shrugs. In­stead, the con­ver­sa­tion fo­cuses on Mr. Trump’s busi­ness suc­cess or his pro­nounce­ments on pre­vent­ing for­eign Mus­lims from en­ter­ing the U.S., an at­ti­tude that jibes with the an­tipa­thy in much of China to­ward the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion in the west­ern prov­ince of Xin­jiang.

“Many in China be­lieve a pro-busi­ness Repub­li­can pres­i­dent will be prag­matic and China-friendly, if not pro-China,” said Wang Dong, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional stud­ies at Pek­ing Univer­sity.

Trump’s as­ser­tion that Amer­i­can troops in South Korea and Ja­pan should be sent back to the U.S. is in align­ment with of­fi­cial, though rarely stated, Chi­nese gov­ern­ment goals. But his sug­ges­tion, later re­versed in part, that Ja­pan and South Korea should be able to de­velop their own nu­clear ar­se­nals alarmed Beijing, es­pe­cially the no­tion that Ja­pan, the oc­cu­pier of China in World War II, would be­come a nu­clear power.

Don­ald J. Trump gave a for­eign pol­icy speech at the Mayflower Ho­tel in Washington last month.

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