Benitez: Trump’s Views on NATO are ‘Superficial and Childlike’

Donald Trump, Feb. 10, 2011Slamming NATO as “obsolete,” Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump pulls all American troops out of Europe and announces that the U.S. will slash its financial contributions to the decades-old military alliance.

At least, this is what the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination has suggested he’d do if he were to be elected in November. It’s a position that current and former U.S. officials and other experts say would be disastrous for American and European security because of the growing tensions with an expansionist Russia and the ongoing threat of new Islamic State-linked terror attacks like those that have hit Paris and Brussels….

“I really do understand this stuff — NATO is obsolete,” Trump said in a Tuesday town hall hosted by CNN. He drilled down in a Wednesday town hall hosted by MSNBC, saying, “We don’t really need NATO in its current form … you have countries that are getting a free ride….”

Candidates from both parties have sought to capitalize on Trump’s latest comments on NATO as bad for the U.S. and good for its opponents. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump’s closest Republican rival, said last week that his call to draw back from Europe would give both ISIS and Russian President Vladimir Putin “a major victory.” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, quipped, “Putin already hopes to divide Europe. If Mr. Trump gets his way, it’ll be like Christmas in the Kremlin….”

A U.S. decision to contribute less to NATO, rather than forcing partners to carry more of the weight, would simply weaken the alliance, said Jorge Benitez, a senior fellow in the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council.

“Without NATO, the U.S. would spend much more on defense and have fewer capabilities,” Benitez told Foreign Policy. “Yes, they should be [increasing defense spending] faster and the other allies should join in, but cutting U.S. support will make this problem worse, not better.”

While a primary part of Trump’s argument about NATO’s potential irrelevance is that it doesn’t address terrorism, which he calls the No. 1 threat, the alliance has already been engaged in counterterrorism efforts for years. The only time NATO’s Article 5 charter — an attack against one member nation is an attack against all — has been invoked was by the U.S., in response to the 9/11 attacks. NATO partners have deployed tens of thousands of troops to Afghanistan over the course of the long war there, suffering significant casualties along the way….

Officials and experts broadly agree that Trump’s claims the U.S. should pull back from NATO demonstrate an obvious lack of understanding for the interconnectedness of U.S. security challenges. “Donald Trump’s recommendations for NATO reveal a superficial and childlike understanding of the alliance,” Benitez told Foreign Policy. “It is embarrassing for a U.S. presidential candidate to know so little.”

Image: Donald Trump, Feb. 10, 2011 (photo: Gage Skidmore)