Geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer said Thursday that Donald Trump’s scepticism of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation would give the Kremlin more breathing room on the world stage.
“That’s certainly a reason Putin decided to endorse Trump — he understands that US allies will be supported less in a potential Trump administration, giving the Kremlin more room to manoeuvre,” Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, told Business Insider in an email.
Earlier in the day, Trump criticised NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance, as “obsolete.”
“It is time to renegotiate, and the time is now!” the Republican presidential frontrunner tweeted.
Trump argued that NATO, which was formed in 1949 to counter the Soviet Union and nationalist militarism in Europe, should focus more on terrorism. The terror group ISIS claimed responsibility for Tuesday attacks in Brussels, where NATO is based, that killed more than 30 people.
NATO has 28 member countries and serves, among other things, as a counterweight to the Kremlin’s ambitions in Eastern Europe. Several post-Soviet states, including Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, are NATO members.
Ukraine began seeking NATO membership in 2014 after Russian President Vladimir Putin seized the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and sent Russian forces to other areas of Ukraine. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg criticised Russian involvement in Ukraine and Russia has accused NATO of “provocative” actions.
Considering NATO’s tensions with Russia, Trump suggesting that the US might back away from this alliance could be seen as a coup for the Kremlin.
This is a change in tone from other American politicians who have criticised Russia or emphasised the need to keep the Kremlin in check.
“For the last two years all we heard from Western newspapers and TV was very critical of Russia,” Victoria Zhuravleva, a Moscow-based expert on US-Russia relations, told Reuters this week.
“So when you hear something that is not so critical and even more friendly towards your country it’s like: ‘Thank God, there’s one person we can talk to: Donald Trump.'”
Zhuravleva told Reuters that both Trump and Putin are “open-minded, pragmatic, and say what they think.”
Both Democrats and Republicans have blasted Trump for being soft on Russia. In a Wednesday speech, Hillary Clinton said that “if Mr. Trump gets his way, it will be like Christmas in the Kremlin.”
Clinton, the Democratic presidential frontrunner, called NATO “one of the best investments America has ever made” and said the US should strengthen its military alliances.
But despite the criticism, it might be a smart move politically for Trump to suggest reworking the alliance to demand that Europe contribute more financially.
It’s true that NATO has become much less relevant for many of its members in the 21st century, even as some (Poland, the Baltic States) find it more urgent on the back of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many Europeans don’t want to contribute much to common defence, especially given their economic woes. I don’t see that changing soon. So I think there’s a fair amount of popular support among Americans for backing away. Particularly those that don’t feel they have gotten much from America’s global policeman and global trade cheerleader role of late.
Trump’s comments are also consistent with his campaign message of negotiating better “deals” for Americans.
“The strongest consistent piece of Trump’s policy platform isn’t to Make America Great Again,” Bremmer said.
It’s America First. Blaming outsiders for America’s woes. Mexicans are coming to rape our women. Chinese and Japanese are robbing us blind. Muslim refugees want to come here and blow us up. And the Europeans are free riding on American defence.
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