President Donald Trump drew backlash after he did not explicitly endorse Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s founding document during his summit with NATO allies in Brussels last month — and it appears his own national security team was blindsided by it.
The article, known as the collective-defence clause, stipulates that an attack on any member is an attack on all. It was invoked for the first time in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Five sources told Politico on Monday that US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis, national security adviser HR McMaster, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson worked with Trump on the speech for weeks and pushed hard for the Article 5 language to be included after viewing later drafts in which it had been taken out.
Lower-level members of Trump’s national security team, meanwhile, were reportedly completely blindsided.
“There was a fully coordinated other speech everybody else had worked on” — and it wasn’t the one Trump gave, a White House official told Politico. Another national security source told Politico that “they [the team] didn’t know it had been removed.”
“It was only upon delivery,” the person said.
Trump said in his speech that the US would “never forsake the friends that stood by our side” in the aftermath of 9/11. But he did not explicitly endorse Article 5, as every US president since Harry S. Truman has when speaking outside NATO headquarters.
Instead, Trump used the speech largely to lecture representatives from nearly two dozen member countries for not meeting their “financial obligations” to increase defence spending to 2% of their gross domestic product.
It is unclear whether Trump deleted the line of his own volition, or advisers such as Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller — both of whom view NATO with deep scepticism — pressured him to take it out.
But it is indicative of how much influence the anti-globalist faction of the White House — led by former Breitbart chairman Bannon — has over Trump, who has shown a willingness to discard the advice of his more politically experienced advisers in favour of guidance from a small group of unseasoned but loyal confidantes.
NSC spokesman Michael Anton did not dispute the account, telling Politico that Trump’s presence at the summit was an inherent show of support for Article 5.
“His continued effort to secure greater defence commitments from other nations is making our alliance stronger,” Anton said.
Anton appears to have been echoing White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who told reporters last month that Trump did not need to explicitly endorse the collective-defence clause in his speech because “the entire ceremony was called an Article 5 dedication.”
But Trump’s omission left current and former NATO officials reeling, with many speculating that Russian President Vladimir Putin would be overjoyed by it.
“Putin will be thrilled at Trump’s refusal to endorse Article 5,” Tom Wright, the director of the Center on the United States and Europe and a fellow in the Project on International Order and Strategy at the Brookings Institution, said at the time. “Unimaginable under any other president.”
NATO was founded in 1949 as Europe’s answer to the Soviet Union, and the 28-member alliance continues to serve largely as a counterweight to Russia’s ambitions in eastern Europe.
Several post-Soviet states, including Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, are now NATO members. Montenegro will become a member in June.
Putin said on Friday that Russia “will think about how to eliminate this threat” if Sweden joins NATO.
Nicholas Burns, who was the US ambassador to NATO under President George W. Bush, said in an interview last month that it was “a major mistake” for Trump to not “reaffirm publicly and explicitly” the US’s Article 5 commitment to NATO.
“I was the US ambassador to NATO on 9/11 and remain grateful for the unstinting support given to America by our European allies and Canada,” Burns said on Thursday. “Trump is not acting like the leader of the West that all US presidents before him have been dating back to Truman.”
Trump’s speech at the NATO summit came on the heels of his trip to the Middle East, where he told Arab leaders he was “not here to lecture” them about human rights.
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