To do busi­ness, Mr Trump, you need a rules-based or­der that can be po­liced

The Guardian - Journal - - News -

James Comey, the former FBI di­rec­tor, said of Don­ald Trump that he bore more re­sem­blance to a mob boss than a demo­cratic politi­cian. In Mr Comey’s ex­pe­ri­ence Mr Trump was a leader who de­manded loy­alty oaths, wanted ab­so­lute con­trol, traded in lies and in­sisted on an us-ver­sus-them world­view. Un­for­tu­nately th­ese traits will un­doubt­edly be on dis­play when the US pres­i­dent ar­rives at the North At­lantic Treaty Or­gan­i­sa­tion sum­mit in Brus­sels to­day.

Mr Trump’s tweets re­veal a leader de­ter­mined to turn the al­liance into a pro­tec­tion racket. The pres­i­dent wants to shake down his mil­i­tary part­ners for some cash. He wants the sum­mit to be all about who does and doesn’t spend 2% of GDP on de­fence. If part­ners refuse to pay? Well, the threat is left hang­ing: there are trade wars Mr Trump could fire up, or he could re­vive his cam­paign pledge to drop Wash­ing­ton’s com­mit­ment to au­to­mat­i­cally de­fend­ing Nato al­lies if they are at­tacked. As Mr Comey said, it is like deal­ing with the mafia.

It is th­ese kinds of ac­tions that make Mr Trump so dan­ger­ous. The Nato al­liance has helped mould the mod­ern world and ush­ered in a demo­cratic, lib­eral world or­der char­ac­terised by open trade and open so­ci­eties, which af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union needed only to be lightly de­fended. This in turn con­trib­uted greatly to Amer­i­can peace and pros­per­ity. A per­cep­tion that the bur­dens are un­equally shared is not new. It is al­most as old as the al­liance it­self. Barack Obama wor­ried that other nations did not act for them­selves, wait­ing in­stead for Wash­ing­ton to lead. Mr Obama could be crit­i­cised for ser­mon­is­ing, but he was be­ing straight. He saw that the de­fence of the mul­ti­lat­eral rules-based or­der against ji­hadist terror, Rus­sian ad­ven­tur­ism and Chi­nese in­tim­i­da­tion was essential. But it re­quired other nations to shoul­der their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. This seems fair. By con­trast Mr Trump wrongly sees the US be­ing dis­ad­van­taged, not ad­van­taged, by the cur­rent global or­der. His tac­tics are to tear down this or­der rather than build it up.

In Brus­sels Mr Trump will hold a sin­gle bi­lat­eral meet­ing, with Jens Stoltenberg. The Nato sec­re­tary gen­eral should ex­plain to the pres­i­dent how the US ben­e­fits from Nato. Not only do al­lies cough up for US bases; thou­sands of Nato troops are de­ployed in global hotspots. Where the 29-na­tion al­liance has been slow is in mod­i­fy­ing its stance to Rus­sia, which has em­ployed a highly ef­fec­tive mix­ture of de­ni­able op­er­a­tions, dis­in­for­ma­tion and cy­ber-at­tacks to wrong­foot demo­cratic op­po­nents. Th­ese asym­met­ric mea­sures are be­low the level of con­flict. But Nato needs a col­lec­tive de­fence pro­vi­sion when deal­ing with them.

Nato’s top brass will have their work cut out. The US pres­i­dent prefers the ar­gu­ment of power to the power of ar­gu­ment. He thinks lit­tle of hu­mil­i­at­ing al­lies over the Iran nu­clear deal or snub­bing them over the Paris cli­mate change pact or in­fu­ri­at­ing them with tar­iffs. This could lead to an­ar­chy, as nations con­clude that they are freer to act with im­punity. With ris­ing pow­ers such as China, it might end in con­fronta­tion. The US pres­i­dent’s de­scrip­tion of

Nato as be­ing “as bad as Nafta” at the last G7 sum­mit is not a good sign. The twin pil­lars of Europe’s place in the world are law-based global or­der and the transat­lantic al­liance. Mr Trump will find to his cost that Euro­peans can­not choose be­tween them. Or­der can­not be im­posed; it needs to be ac­cepted. Mr Trump likes to think of pol­i­tics as busi­ness, but he won’t strike good, last­ing deals with al­lies – and en­e­mies – with­out rules that ev­ery­one plays by.

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