I’m not alone in believing this.
Yet Thursday night, in his acceptance speech, Mr. Trump doubled down. While he did not specifically place conditions on NATO member nations in his speech, he did restate his belief that “NATO is obsolete because it (does) not properly cover terror, and also, that many member countries (are) not paying their fair share. As usual, the United States has been picking up the cost.”
It is, of course, the tradition that active, serving, uniformed members of the military — especially senior officers — do not openly take sides during campaigns. The reason? One of the candidates will eventually become commander in chief and reside at the top of the military hierarchy; in the tradition of civilian control of the military, we will all need to be unwavering in following our new president’s orders.
But as a retired senior officer, I am now a private citizen and can speak out on the feasibility, practicality or dangers related to political statements and their effects on our military and our alliances. Additionally, having served 12 years of my military career in Europe, and working with the governments and militaries of our allies and engaging with various entities of the Russian Federation, I can confirm that Donald Trump’s statements suggesting his administration would place fiscal conditions on defending NATO allies are irresponsible and dangerous.
Having served in Europe; having attended multiple NATO exercises, ministerial and conferences; and having worked with NATO member countries I can say it is certainly true there have been many discussions about burden-sharing, the percentage of GDP that many countries pay toward defense, and type and size of force contributions to NATO missions and headquarters.
These irresponsible and overt statements — meant as political bluster for consumption by some in the domestic audience in the United States — quickly take on more seismic consequences when directed to our friends and allies in Europe and around the world. And they certainly might contribute to nefarious action by our adversaries, especially the current occupants of the Kremlin. Mr. Trump seems to either not know, or not care, that words are important in international diplomacy, and so far he doesn’t seem willing to understand these “rookie mistakes” can result in catastrophic results and won’t contribute much to making America respected, trusted or safer.
But there is more that only we soldiers or those who understand the unique relationship with Europe know.
Europe has been wracked by major wars that have killed millions in each of the past three centuries. Since NATO was created almost 70 years ago, there has not been a major conflict on the European landmass.
When the United States was attacked by terrorists on 9/11, for the first time in its history, NATO declared Article V procedures. It was telling that the country who always believed we would force others to declare Article V was the first beneficiary from our friends in Europe.