It’s called leverage, and Trump is using it to get NATO member states to pay their fair share, or get out of the alliance.
Without American money and military might NATO crumbles. Trump has made no secret of the fact that America will not continue to pay the bill for the bulk of the alliance’s budget. Each member state needs to contribute its required share as stipulated in the alliance charter.
In light of Trump’s apparent fault to honor campaign promises, it should come as little surprise that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is opting to pass on a April 5-6 meeting of NATO foreign ministers to be present during the first US visit by China’s president.
In a move to further infuriate the establishment liberal left and neocon right, Tillerson will travel to Russia one week after the China meeting, which Reuters describes as “a step allies may see as putting Moscow’s concerns ahead of theirs.”
Tillerson intends to miss what would be his first meeting in Brussels with the 28 NATO members to attend President Donald Trump’s expected April 6-7 talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. While it goes without saying, two former US officials told Reuters that “the decisions to skip the NATO meeting and to visit Moscow risked feeding a perception that Trump may be putting U.S. dealings with big powers before those of smaller nations that depend on Washington for their security.”
It is also likely to prompt further speculation of NATO-alternative alliances. State Department spokesman Mark Toner had no immediate comment on whether Tillerson would skip the NATO meeting or visit Russia. Two U.S. officials said Tillerson planned to visit Moscow on April 12.
“It feeds this narrative that somehow the Trump administration is playing footsy with Russia,” said one former U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “You don’t want to do your early business with the world’s great autocrats. You want to start with the great democracies, and NATO is the security instrument of the transatlantic group of great democracies,” he added. NATO is also the alliance which installs anti-missile system, drastically shifting the nuclear balance of power in the region, and keeps piling up troops on the border with Russia, and is then shocked when a furious Russia lashes out.
As for Tillerson’s visit to Russia, any visit to Moscow by a senior Trump administration official will be carefully scrutinized after the director of the FBI on Monday publicly confirmed his agency was investigating any collusion between the Russian government and Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign.
Perhaps this is Trump’s way of demonstrating how little he cares about the public’s reaction to Comey’s revelations. Furthermore, Trump has already antagonized and worried NATO allies by referring to the Western security alliance as “obsolete” and by pressing other members to meet their commitments to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.