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Research Report

NATO and Trump: The Case for a New Transatlantic Bargain

Fabrice Pothier
Alexander Vershbow
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2017
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 24
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-4)

    Founded in 1949 to defend Western Europe against the growing power of the Soviet Union, NATO has outlived its former adversary because of its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. While collective defense has always been NATO’s number one mission, and NATO’s integrated command structure its most precious asset, the Alliance assumed a greater political role in the 1950s and 1960s. A watershed event was the 1967 Harmel Report on the “Future Tasks of the Alliance,” which established deterrence and dialogue as the twin pillars of Alliance strategy and laid the foundations for East-West détente.⁵

    When the Berlin Wall fell...

  2. (pp. 4-7)

    The issue of fair burden-sharing between the United States and its European allies is as old as the Alliance itself. During the Cold War, the US maintained over three hundred thousand troops in Europe and accounted for about 50 percent of total allied defense spending. During this time, successive US administrations voiced their frustration with Western Germany, for example, which was seen as contributing too little to the defense of Europe against Soviet threats. With the end of the Cold War, allies were eager to cash in on the peace dividend, and the US share of total NATO spending rose...

  3. (pp. 8-11)

    Putting spending on a stronger growth path should be the first part of a broader NATO agenda. European allies will expect, in return, that the new US administration will renew and even strengthen its commitment to European security, and remove any ambiguity or conditionality when it comes to Article 5.

    This starts with confirming the commitments to bolstering defense and deterrence that were undertaken at the 2014 Wales Summit and the 2016 Warsaw Summit. In essence, the United States should assure all the allies, and especially those most threatened by Russia along the eastern flank, that it will play its...

  4. (pp. 12-14)

    Trump and his senior officials have openly questioned the extent to which NATO can play a useful role in support of the fight against terrorism, a top foreign policy priority for the administration. The Alliance has so far had a marginal role in the Middle East, a critical region for the United States’ anti-terrorism efforts, but NATO should do more and has the capability to do so.

    First, the Alliance could play a greater role in training local forces in the Middle East—with military boots on the ground—to help partner countries rebuild their own forces. NATO has favored...

  5. (pp. 14-14)

    Overcoming allied reluctance would depend, in part, on NATO overhauling some of its structures and procedures. The organization has been reforming and transforming on an almost continuous basis since the end of the Cold War. Between 2010 and 2016, there was a substantial reduction in the number of personnel in the NATO command structure, from 13,000 to 8,800, and cuts in personnel in the relatively small civilian headquarters.15 The organization has operated under the constraint of a zero-nominal-growth budget ceiling since the 2008 economic crisis, with NATO’s operating budget cut every year since then. Building the new headquarters was justified...

  6. (pp. 15-16)
    Fabrice Pothier and Alexander Vershbow

    Compromise has always been how both North American and European allies have found a way to have a stake in each other’s security and to benefit from it. Trump has cooled down his rhetoric and even declared that NATO is no longer obsolete. It seems that Trump is beginning to understand the value of keeping allies and alliances. The European allies are slowly adapting to the unconventional style and tone of the new US president.

    This is not a warm embrace, with very few exceptions, but it is one out of necessity. That little trust exists between the United States...