The White House put out a statement this morning as President Donald Trump and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg offered comments to reporters before breakfast, with the President telling reporters that “We have a very good relationship. Because of me, they’ve raised about $40 billion over the last year. So I think the Secretary General likes Trump. He may be the only one, but that’s OK with me.”
Secretary General Stoltenberg also offered comments to reporters, saying that leaders will ‘discuss how we can make this summit a success, showing that Europe and North America are standing together. And we will continue to focus on defense spending, because as the President just said, NATO Allies have to invest more in defense, and that’s not exactly what they’re doing.”
We spoke with Cipher Brief Expert and former Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah Lee James about the NATO Summit, and President Donald Trump’s pivot to Russia as he prepares to meet face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin in just a few days.
The Cipher Brief (TCB): What could the U.S. see as a win out of what is already a somewhat combative summit because of the public comments by the President over the past few days?
DLJ: This is a very combative summit. We’ve already seen signs of that. President Trump started it off by stoking divisions within the United Kingdom, by being critical of Prime Minister May. He certainly has been critical in the last few days of Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau and other allies over the issue of burden sharing, and he has tweeted across America that he was going to use this summit to essentially hammer the burden sharing theme. Although burden sharing is a legitimate, and important issue, it’s not the only issue and to have that be the headline news and the only thing that’s talked about, and dare I say weaponized against the allies, is not healthy.
TCB: Let’s talk about the fact that one of the greatest values of NATO has been its collective stance against Russian aggression, and the President will leave Brussels for the U.K. and then on to Helsinki, where he will meet face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin. How significant is the timing?
DLJ: – I think it’s quite significant. It’s bad enough that we have a combative summit with our own best allies, but to juxtapose that with, what I fear will be an overly ‘chummy’ summit with Vladimir Putin less than a week later, I think is a terrible optic for the world. If you step back and ask, what does Vladimir Putin most want? He wants recognition on the world stage, as a major leader and a major power. He wants more recognition for Russia as a regional and world power, in many different spheres. And he would love to sow divisions wherever possible within the United States, within NATO and within the countries of NATO. And I think regrettably, all of that will be achieved by this summit.
TCB: – Let’s follow that thought through a little bit. If there are, over the next 3-5 years, divisions that are created between NATO members, and a strange but strengthening alliance with Russia, which the intelligence community of course is sending up warning signals right and left, what’s the path we’re on? If you were to put up a warning flag that says, hey this is where we’re headed, what would be your biggest fear?
DLJ: – It is a very dangerous path. Of course, the thing that Mr. Putin wants is a lifting of sanctions because his own economy is in poor shape. If President Trump were to attempt to lift those sanctions, which of course the Congress gets a vote, and he can’t do it by himself, but a lifting of those sanctions would essentially be a reward for the path that Mr. Putin has chosen to take, and I think we’ve seen repeatedly throughout history that if we embolden a bully, they will simply do more and more. So, I think it’s almost greenlighting the type of behavior which in recent years we’ve tried to send a message that this behavior- meddling in elections, annexing Crimea, and so on, that these are not acceptable behaviors. And yet, I fear that we’re now on a path to signaling that they are acceptable.
TCB:- The U.S. Senate has tried to send their own message to NATO by approving a bi-partisan show of support for the alliance in a 97-2 vote. What do you see as the best chance for a U.S. win now with NATO?
DLJ– We know the burden sharing theme is front and center. If that turns out to be all it is, that will still make for a combative summit, but that will probably be a win. At least it won’t be a promise to withdraw troops from Germany, or something of that nature, or stop exercises with our NATO allies. I’m watching to see if there is anything beyond the burden sharing that is an outcome of this. Of course there are some very good deliverables that NATO has teed up in terms of more involvement with counter-terrorism and I fear that those are going to get completely lost in the shuffle.