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The NATO summit that will take place this Wednesday and Thursday in Brussels, Belgium, will be like no other.
The difference is due in large part to a man: Donald Trump, who is visiting Europe.
Under his supervision, periodic tensions between the United States. and many of its allies have become a focus of controversy, which if amplified, may call into question the future of the alliance itself.
What is NATO for?
From its beginnings, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was a defensive military alliance aimed at deterring any attack coming from the then Soviet Union.
Once the Cold War ended, NATO raised its new tasks: to spread stabilitythroughout Europe by welcoming new members and establishing a series of partnerships with other countries, but also by using force at times, especially in the Balkans, to avoid aggression and genocide.
But the alliance has always been more than just a military organization.
It is one of the central institutions of “the West”, part of a wide range of international organizations through which the United States. and his allies tried to regulate the world that emerged from the defeat of Nazism in 1945.
But, fundamentally, NATO is an alliance of shared values and transatlantic unity. And this is the reason why the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House is proving so disruptive.
Is the transatlantic link being undone?
Superficially, at least, the growing tensions between the US president and many of its NATO allies are related to money.
Sharing the financial burden of the organization has long been a key issue at NATO summits.
Trump is not the first president to emphasize this issue.
But in terms of form and substance, he represents something new.
The debate focuses on the objective agreed by all NATO members that defense spending should reach 2% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product, the total value of goods produced and services provided) by 2024.
Spending is certainly increasing in many countries.
Trump may deserve some credit for that.
But it may be that many allies still have difficulties in achieving that reference objective.
For President Trump, Germany, one of Washington’s richest partners, is the biggest offender.
Earlier this month, in remarks addressed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump said: “I do not know how much protection we receive to protect you.”
Noting that Germany negotiated gas agreements with Russia, Trump added: “They pay billions of dollars to Russia and we are the idiots who pay for everything.”
Questioning the value that NATO represents for the US It is something new and deeply disturbing to many of Washington’s partners.
How serious is the Russian threat?
The strategic challenges facing NATO are changing.
They are, at the same time, more complex but less defined.
They range from a resurgent Russia to computer and cyber war, from terrorism to mass migration.
Even the Russian threat has changed. This is not the Soviet Union of yesteryear.
The threat is not so much that large armies of Russian tanks advance towards the West. There is a whole range of strategies ranging from hacking to cyber attacksand information operations, all with the aim of destabilizing Western democracies.
Western governments clearly believe that Russia is also willing to resort to assassination : as proof is that of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 and the assassination attempt on former Russian Sergei Skripal in England earlier this year.
Russia is a relatively weak country, but is willing to use its military strength , especially close in Georgia and Ukraine, to secure its own strategic interests.
Of course, Russia sees the expansion of NATO’s borders as a threat to its security.
Can NATO survive Trump?
Trump’s frankness is, in a way, refreshing.
The United States is a superpower with strategic interests around the world.
The Russian threat is now different: facing it does not require the massive forcesof the past.
Europe should probably be able to provide more of its own defenses.
In fact, despite all of Trump’s rhetoric, the reality is that the US now he is more militarily committed in Europe than a few years ago.
Key figures in this administration, such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis, are enthusiastic supporters of the Atlantic alliance.
But does Trump himself share the values of the European and Canadian partners in Washington? Many would say no. Do you recognize the value of an alliance like NATO for the United States? Again, for many the answer would be no.
After this NATO summit, Trump will meet with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. This meeting has many NATO allies scared. What could the president grant? What message will Moscow take of the difficulties of NATO?
NATO diplomats resigned themselves to negotiating the ups and downs of the Trump presidency.
Now, there are genuine fears that a second Trump term could leave NATO marginalized and its transatlantic column deeply damaged.