On May 17, when NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met with President Donald Trump at the White House, part of Stoltenberg’s agenda was to insulate NATO from the political winds whipping through the transatlantic relationship. It’s too early to tell if he succeeded, but it is now entirely possible that when the United States and its allies meet at the NATO Summit in Brussels in July, transatlantic relations will be at their lowest ebb since the 2003 Iraq War. Will the NATO alliance, buffeted by disputes not directly related to its mission, feel the chill of this deep freeze in transatlantic political relations, or be insulated from it?
Europe has been in the news plenty recently, with the NATO Defense Ministerial, the Munich Security Conference, and senior Trump administration officials fanning out across Europe to represent the president at these august gatherings. The unifying theme in most of these meetings was allied progress in reaching the NATO goal of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense — the Trump administration’s litmus test in gauging an ally’s commitment to NATO and determining America’s reciprocal commitment to that ally. The 2 percent goal was agreed to in 2014 at NATO’s Wales Summit. A Trumpian twist was delivered by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis at his first NATO defense ministerial: “If your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defense.” In the words of the New York Times, “… NATO Allies to Spend More, or Else.”