The following editorial is from the Washington Post.
Congressional testimony by Donald Trump’s national security nominees last week suggested that the incoming administration would not seek to dismantle the alliances that have undergirded the West – and U.S. global leadership – since 1945. “If we did not have NATO today, we would need to create it,” said defense secretary nominee James Mattis. The U.S. treaty commitment to defend its European allies, said secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson, is “inviolable.”
It is still not clear, however, that Trump agrees. In an interview published by the Times of London on Monday, he recalled his claim last year that NATO was “obsolete” because it did not fight terrorism (though it does) and because many of its members did not meet its defense spending guidelines. He then went on to say that “it doesn’t matter” to him whether the European Union exists, predicted more countries will leave it and placed German Chancellor Angela Merkel on par with Russian President Vladimir Putin in meriting his trust. Unsurprisingly, Moscow hailed Trump’s words, while senior European leaders reacted with alarm.
Merkel played down the statements, and maybe she’s right: Perhaps Trump’s words – he also said “NATO is very important to me” – were haphazard and should not be taken seriously. Yet if the president-elect’s intention was to undermine the transatlantic alliance, encourage the disintegration of the European Union and tear down Merkel as she begins a re-election campaign – an agenda identical to Putin’s – he could hardly have been more effective.
Russia has already launched a disinformation campaign to discredit Merkel, using fake-news websites and Internet bots in the same way it targeted Hillary Clinton. Germans might be forgiven for thinking that Trump’s intervention was designed to enhance that assault.
Trump’s critiques of the European Union are shared by many Europeans. But he is wrong to suggest that the United States has no interest in the community’s survival. In addition to making war between its great powers unthinkable, European integration has helped consolidate democracy and the protection of human rights in countries across the continent, from Portugal to Romania. If it broke up, more nations would drift into the corrupt, autocratic orbit of Russia.
As for NATO, Mattis was right to tell the Senate Armed Services Committee that it “is the most successful military alliance in modern world history.” It has greatly magnified U.S. power and global influence, even when its members were underspending on their military forces. Without it, the West would have no effective way to contain Russian neo-imperialism.
Merkel said she will wait to see what Trump does when he is in office. It’s probably naive to hope that he will modulate his rhetoric. But Americans who value their country’s place in the world, including Trump’s Cabinet members, should do their best to ensure that he does not act on it. Once destroyed, the West’s alliances will not be easily rebuilt.
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