One of President Trump’s most surprising reversals since taking office saw him declare that NATO is “no longer obsolete” (while meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg). This followed over a year of Trump campaigning against the military alliance, which he declared was a giant waste of money for the U.S., and he even sent an “invoice” to German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the money he felt her country owed. Yet Trump is a NATO fan now, so he’ll attend his first summit on May 25.
This shall be a significant event, for all 28 member countries will also have heads of state in attendance. Something odd (and potentially embarrassing) is bound to happen, but the summit’s organizers are hoping to ward off at least some awkwardness. According to Foreign Policy, the alliance has asked heads of state to plan only upon making 2-4 minute speeches and not dive too deep into policy (plus, NATO plans to avoid a full post-meeting statement, which is strange) in order to make their most high-profile newbie comfortable. The kid gloves are definitely on if this report is true:
“It’s kind of ridiculous how they are preparing to deal with Trump,” said one source briefed extensively on the meeting’s preparations. “It’s like they’re preparing to deal with a child — someone with a short attention span and mood who has no knowledge of NATO, no interest in in-depth policy issues, nothing,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They’re freaking out.”
“People are scared of his unpredictability, intimidated by how he might react knowing the president might speak his mind — or tweet his mind,” [a] former official said. Or, as another current senior NATO official put it before the meeting: “We’re bracing for impact.”
The main topics of conversation at this summit are expected to revolve around burden-sharing by member countries and counterterrorism efforts — both subjects that have provoked strong reactions from Trump in the not-too-distant past. Trump’s expected to favor big changes on how military efforts are funded, which may cause clashes with other heads of state.
“His views of burden-sharing seem to be more ambitious than past presidents,” and that could become a source of tension at the big NATO confab, said Alexander Vershbow, former deputy secretary-general of NATO. “The burden-sharing conversation may not go entirely smoothly,”
Are these fair assessments? Trump does tend to tweet about foreign policy before thinking, and his simplistic vocabulary while describing potential global catastrophes hasn’t won him any fans. All of the fretting by organizers will, unfortunately, limit what other heads of state say because of the fear that Trump will be offended and tweet something rude. No matter what, this shall be a very unusual summit.
(Via Foreign Policy)