“You know what capitalism is? Getting fucked!” –Tony Montana, or Donald Trump, probably.
Donald Trump said the most dangerous statement of his hopefully short political career last week. No, it wasn’t spoken during his record-setting 75-minute nominating speech. Rather, they were uttered to a couple of reporters from The New York Times, David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman. Sanger and Haberman were interviewing Trump regarding foreign policy. One of the first issues to come up was NATO, a military alliance the US has been part of since its inception in 1949. Trump then said something that has never been said by a presidential candidate—he’d be willing to abandon the defense of NATO allies if “we are not going to be properly reimbursed.” The statement was largely buried by the media coverage of Trump’s speech, but make no mistake—this is more threatening to global stability than a border wall or trade tariffs. This is how World Wars begin.
I realize that the above paragraph can be labelled as fear mongering, which makes me no better than Trump himself. But it was from a World War that NATO was born. The Second one, to be exact, when the victorious Allied countries formed the initial twelve state bloc in 1949. Since it was created, its membership has grown to twenty-eight countries, and its mission has been successful—preventing another World War. So then, why on Earth would Donald Trump threaten to abandon the defense of certain NATO member states?
In his own words, “We have massive trade deficits.”
Yes, the reason Donald Trump wants to leave a military alliance is because he’s upset with our trade deals. Confused? So am I. The crux of Trump’s argument comes from an objectively sane position. He notes that the US spends a “tremendous” amount of money defending its NATO allies, and we should be “properly reimbursed” for this expense. Trump said, “I think it’s a mutual interest, but we’re being reimbursed like it’s only in our interest.” When Sanger retorted by saying that our military presence in NATO has allowed us to project military power around the world, Trump said, “How is it helping us? How has it helped us? We have massive trade deficits. I could see that, if instead of having a trade deficit worldwide of $800 billion, we had a trade positive of $100 billion, $200 billion, $800 billion. So how has it helped us?”
It has helped us, to steal a word from the Donald, tremendously (don’t worry, Trump won’t mind someone else using his language). Our position in NATO has given us the ability to have a military presence in Europe, and set a precedent for international defense cooperation. After 9/11, the US invoked Article 5 of the NATO Charter, which considers an attack on one NATO country to be an attack on all. The US led NATO countries in the invasion of Afghanistan, and NATO later took command of the operation. In Libya, NATO enforced a no-fly zone over the country when Muammar Gaddafi began targeting his own citizens.
Today, key NATO ally Turkey allows the US to have access to Incirilik Air Base, located just across the border from Syria. Since July 2015, this base has been the primary launching point for airstrikes against ISIS. After an attempted coup rocked Turkey this month, Turkey’s position in NATO is fragile, and the fact that Trump, the candidate that has drilled this administration for not doing enough to fight the Islamic State, is willing to further complicate NATO’s structure is indicative of a larger problem: that Trump has no grasp on American foreign policy or military strategy. This comes on the heels of reports that Ohio Governor and former GOP contender John Kasich was offered the VP job and much more.
Trump’s biggest gripe with NATO’s other member states is that they are not contributing enough financially to their own militaries. NATO recommends that member states spend roughly 2% of their GDP on defense. Of the twenty-eight countries who are a part of NATO, the US is one of only six that meet that standard. But, the fact that he would be willing to risk losing the support of valuable allies because they’re not meeting his, and only his, standards makes him nothing more than a gangster running a protection racket. Like Tony Soprano, Trump is demanding an economic cut from NATO member states, otherwise a “terrible accident” may happen. And by terrible accident, I mean Russia.
It was less than two years ago when Russia invaded Crimea, a region of Ukraine that used to be a part of Russia proper in the early days of the Soviet Union. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and thus the threat of an escalating international conflict meant that NATO was unable to prevent Russia from taking Crimea. Four NATO member states border Ukraine, none of which meet the 2% recommended military expenditure level. If Trump would be willing to abandon the defense of these nations because of this, there’s no guarantee that Vladimir Putin wouldn’t flex his muscles in the region.
This is Trump the infamous businessman at work. All he sees is costs and revenues, red and black numbers, and he wants to get America what he believes is a better deal. But there is no better deal than international defense cooperation, stability, and peace, something that NATO has largely brought to Europe. NATO was born out of the post-WW2 era of the Marshall Plan and America leading the international community, a time that Trump has incessantly referred to via his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Trump’s ignorance regarding NATO, the biggest surviving achievement of this era, shows that making him commander-in-chief would be more like Tony Montana controlling the military than a politician. And if you haven’t seen Scarface, it doesn’t have a happy ending.