Trump's latest move threatens a foundation of global economic security

Jasper Juinen/Getty ImagesPresident Donald Trump walks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Brussels.
  • Trump’s trade wars against key US allies were just a precursor to his attacks on NATO, a key pillar of global security that has underpinned economic growth.
  • Trump’s attacks on NATO play into Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin’s desire to divide Europe.
  • “Trump has no alternative vision for organising the world – he is wholly in destruction mode,” Benn Steil of the Council on Foreign Relations tells Business Insider.

In August of 2016, at the height of the US presidential election race, 50 Republican national security experts warned then Republican nominee Donald Trump would be “the most reckless president” in American history.

Nearly two years later, it has become fairly clear why those experts, along with so many others including Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, were so concerned.

Not only has Trump alienated US allies on trade by erecting unilateral tariffs that have kickstarted a trade war, he is now ratcheting up tensions further by threatening another pillar of Western democracy – the post-war security alliance encompassed in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or NATO

In a repeat performance of his G7 attrition with other top world leaders – and key US allies – Trump is bashing NATO countries in advance of meeting Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.

Trump again stunned US allies by sounding deeply critical of the longstanding post-war security alliance of 29 nations. The US president repeated misrepresentations about how NATO is funded, suggesting that nations contribute to some common security fund that in reality does not exist. He also wrongly stated he had achieved an increase in defence spending by US allies, when no such agreement was reached.

In the same breath, he sounded a strongly conciliatory tone with the Russian leader despite the US intelligence community’s assessment that Putin not only meddled in the 2016 elections to help Trump but also continues his cyberwar efforts going into the 2018 mid-terms.

This gives Putin, who invaded the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in early 2014 without major reaction from the West, even more leeway to shape the global balance of power despite its relative economic weakness versus major adversaries like China and the United States.

In a forceful rebuke, former US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed in a statement much of the sentiment shared by US allies:

“President Trump makes public adversaries out of our friends, and turns our adversary, who has been attacking America’s democracy, into his fawned-over ally. Why? Why would an American president whose first NATO meeting last year was a disaster, show up in Belgium this year just to prove he doesn’t understand how vital alliances have made a huge difference for the security of the United States and the lives of Europeans?”

NATO was literally America’s way of creating a post-war security umbrella for its own interests. It’s ironic that it’s the American president himself who seems intent on undermining the alliance, whose vow of mutual cooperation was last triggered after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

“NATO was part of a Holy Trinity of institutions, together with the predecessors to the EU and WTO, initiated by the United States between 1947 and 1949 to organise the non-communist world politically and economically,” Benn Steil, senior fellow and director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Business Insider.

“Trump has no alternative vision for organising the world – he is wholly in destruction mode,” said Steil, author of a new book on the Marshall Plan.

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