President Donald Trump’s repeated derision of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is leading to a “new and dangerous” moment for the U.S. and its allies, according to former NATO commanders.
“The alliance is at a moment of high tension … something is new and dangerous,” retired U.S. Adm. Jim Stavridis, who was NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe for four years, told Stars and Stripes in an interview. “What is different now is the obvious antipathy, which feels deeply personal, on the part of the U.S. president toward the alliance in general and some of the key leaders in particular.”
Trump has repeatedly criticized America’s European allies, particularly Germany, for not increasing defense spending, but those in the country have little interest in pumping up funding. German politicians may not want to appear to be in agreement with Trump, who is very unpopular in the country, and they would point out that Germany helps the United States by allowing American forces to use military bases in Germany to facilitate transportation to the Middle East and Africa.
“Germany is our essential ally, our most important ally, but it seems like we are kicking them in the ass all the time,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army Europe until late last year. “I don’t think it is the right approach. Certainly, they need to do more, but I think we need to be more sophisticated in how we incentivize burden sharing.”
He added that a significant issue for NATO in Europe is the speed they can move forces, and noted that Germany should be working on infrastructure.
“We need more German trains, not German tanks,” he said.
Although Stavridis said that progress has been made, NATO defense spending increases “will not go fast enough to satisfy Donald Trump, and the anger and petulance will probably increase,” while the “huge political disconnect between Trump’s dislike of NATO and its democratic leaders and his frequently expressed admiration for the authoritarian leader [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is an enormous discontinuity for the alliance.”
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