Suppose you have a group of friends that has been together a long time — a really solid group that has demonstrated over years and even decades that the members will stick together and work together to help one another and solve mutual problems. That’s a pretty big deal. You are lucky to have such a group of friends. And maybe, over time, you come to recognize the value of being a member of such a group so much that it helps you get through those times when you occasionally wonder whether you are doing more than your share of the helping.
The NATO alliance, and various other big alliances to which the United States has been a member — and in many cases, the leading member — have been like that.
Then Donald J. Trump became president. He announced, as a candidate and since, that these deals are for suckers. The United States does too much for its allies and they don’t do as much for us.
Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s more complicated and the overall benefits of belonging to such a group of friends are more important than a day-by-day tote-up of who is doing more or less than their share.
In any case, I was quite impressed with a talk I covered last fall by Minnesota native and former high-ranking Hillary Clinton aide Jake Sullivan, in which he argued that the big, enduring benefits of being a member of such a group significantly outweigh the possibility that you are doing more than your share. (My full piece on the Sullivan talk is here.)
The United States’ major rivals/competitors/foes, Russia and China, are big, powerful nations. Not compared to us, but compared to most others. But they are very poor in allies. The U.S.-led structure of those alliances dwarfs anything that could be called alliance structures led by our major geo-political rivals. The advantages of that should be obvious. But it seems they are not so obvious to the current occupant of the Oval Office who, by dint of that position, sits atop that dominant alliance structure, and who has spent more of his presidency complaining about his allies than about his adversaries. In fact, he seems to seldom, if ever, complain about anything Russia does.
All of which I review only to set up this troubling story in the New York Times: “Rift Between Trump and Europe Is Now Open and Angry.” If the story is right, this is beyond worrisome and it is beyond a dream-come-true for Vladimir Putin.
Here’s the top:
European leaders have long been alarmed that President Trump’s words and Twitter messages could undo a trans-Atlantic alliance that had grown stronger over seven decades. They had clung to the hope that those ties would bear up under the strain.
But in the last few days of a prestigious annual security conference in Munich, the rift between Europe and the Trump administration became open, angry and concrete, diplomats and analysts say.
A senior German official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on such matters, shrugged his shoulders and said: ‘No one any longer believes that Trump cares about the views or interests of the allies. It’s broken.’
The most immediate danger, diplomats and intelligence officials warned, is that the trans-Atlantic fissures now risk being exploited by Russia and China.
Even the normally gloomy Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, happily noted the strains, remarking that the Euro-Atlantic relationship had become increasingly ‘tense. We see new cracks forming, and old cracks deepening,’ Mr. Lavrov said.